Omaha School Board member Tony Vargas launched his campaign for the Nebraska State Legislature in a district that hovered at just under 50 percent Latino in 2010 and the nonwhite population is about 58 percent. This nonpartisan seat was held by Republican Senator Nicole Fox, and former Sen. John Synowiecki also entered the primary. The May primary would narrow the field to two candidates regardless of party affiliation.


Our challenge was to increase Tony’s name ID, communicate with Spanish speakers and increase Latino turnout. Through a series of English and Spanish direct mail and an aggressive field program, voters learned of Tony’s dedication to education, family values and commitment to his community. It was never a doubt that Latino voters supported Tony, however, registering them to vote and convincing them to vote was our largest challenge to overcome.


In the May primary, Tony won 10 of 12 precincts and increased district voter turnout by 35 percent from the last legislative primary election. Forty percent of the voters had not voted in any of the last three primaries; activating 1,109 new voters. Almost a thousand more people voted for a legislative candidate in the district than cast a vote for president, turning the usual down-ballot experience of declining vote totals on its head. Senator Fox was eliminated leaving Vargas and former Senator Synowiecki to battle for the seat in November.

Due to our success in the primary, we took the same approach in the general election by focusing on English and Spanish direct mail that focused on Tony accomplishments in improving education in Omaha and his vision for improving neighborhoods. In November, Tony defeated  Synowiecki 60 percent to 40 percent.

Tony Vargas is the second Latino to serve in the Legislature, the first to represent South Omaha.