Eric Underwood, a restaurant owner in Lincoln, became the executive director of the Republican Party during a tumultuous convention in July last summer. The unrest within the party came from a top-down, heavy-handed approach from leadership that came to a head when five delegates were refused their seats before the convention, one of them even being arrested for “trespassing” before a near-unanimous vote seated the delegates anyway.
When Underwood replaced Dan Welsch as executive director, some party members were upset that this would interrupt the cash flow from party influential members with deep pockets. “That’s the first thing I was told,” Underwood said. “’You’ve ruined the party, we’re never going to get any more dollars into this party, and we’ve lost everything. You’ve handed everything over to the Democrats.’ But the people of the party are the true resource of the party, because your level of influence and engage is truly what makes people do something like voting, or volunteering, or walking and knocking.”
He spoke about the party’s need to build relationships with voters, asking why they vote, not who they vote for, and he cited previous elections that were decided by only a few hundred votes. Underwood also talked about building relationships in the Hispanic community, and he mentioned his long-time Latino kitchen manager, who spoke with him about politics and even provided some of the language in a new campaign commercial targeting the Hispanic community: “vota porque tu cuentas” — vote because you count.
Underwood was optimistic about the Nebraska Republican Party making gains in the midterms, predicting a filibuster-proof majority of 36 conservative legislators and four new members on the State Board of Education. Underwood based this on very strong engagement numbers in early ballots, showing a Republican majority in nearly every precinct. “I’ve never seen this amount of engagement by the Republicans early on,” Underwood said. “And I think you’re going to see historic numbers of turnout.”
The midterm election is be tomorrow, Nov. 8.
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