Republican candidates seek to beat the odds against Terry

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April 18th, 2012

Lincoln, NE – In the U.S. House of Representatives, incumbents are reelected 93 percent of the time. But that figure isn’t stopping a handful of Republican candidates from taking on incumbent representative Lee Terry in Nebraska’s Second District primary race. Citing anti-incumbent backlash and Terry’s long-running stint, they say they have a chance. But one political expert isn’t so sure.

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Lee Terry faces four Republican challengers in Nebraska's May 15 primary. (Photo credit LeeTerry.House.Gov)

In the U.S. House of Representatives, incumbents are reelected 93 percent of the time. But that figure isn’t stopping a handful of Republican candidates from taking on incumbent representative Lee Terry in Nebraska’s Second Congressional District primary race.

Terry was first elected to the House back in 1998. That means he’s currently tied with former Congressman Glenn Cunningham for the title of longest-serving representative from the Second District, which encompasses Douglas County and part of Sarpy County.

Looking at House races nationwide since 1964, incumbents have an average 93 percent chance of being reelected; Terry has been six times. In 2010 had only one Republican challenger, who collected 37 percent of the vote.

This year, he has four.

“Generally, the more divisive a primary, the tougher it is on an incumbent who wins that primary in the general election,” said political scientist Michael Wagner, who teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Running against Terry is Brett Lindstrom, an Omaha financial adviser; Glenn Freeman, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant and former Douglas County GOP chairman; Jack Heidel, chair of the mathematics department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha; and Paul Anderson, a railroad worker.

Glenn Freeman, GOP Representative primary candidate.

But given Terry’s longevity and the overall incumbent success race, what chance do the candidates really have?

Not much, Wagner said.

“There are so many people challenging Congressman Terry that it’s really difficult to imagine how one of them could catch fire in a way that would overcome (him),” he said. “If it was just one person, there’d be a slim chance, but I think with all these people running, there’s virtually no chance.”

The odds aren’t lost on the candidates, either.

“That’s the conventional wisdom, that the protest vote will split,” said Heidel, but he and the other candidates argue that several factors work in their favor – and even if they don’t get elected, the attention they’re bringing to their key issues could affect Terry’s policies.

Dozens of red, white and blue campaign signs are stacked on the porch of Heidel’s home near UNO, waiting to be distributed.

Brett Lindstrom, GOP Representative primary candidate.

While Lindstrom and Freeman had several bones to pick with Terry, Heidel is centering his campaign on one item: the federal deficit. He pointed out that the national debt, basically an accumulation of annual federal deficits, grew from $6 trillion in 1995 when Terry took office to $16 trillion now.

“This is my rationale for running against an incumbent in a primary, my entire focus of my campaign and the focus of what I would do if I were elected,” he said.

His solution for a balanced budget? End automatic increases to federal budgets, and slash the existing budgets of every major federal department by at least 10 percent – including the Department of Education.

“I can work with numbers, and there apparently are lots of people in Washington who can’t add and subtract, because they’re not doing a very good job of it,” he said. “It’s unacceptable, and irresponsible, and it has to end. It has to be brought under control.”

Jack Heidel, GOP Representative primary candidate.

So far, according to the Federal Election Commission, he’s raised the most money out of the four challengers at $60,524, thought that’s dwarfed by Terry’s $947,544.

Lindstrom, a former Husker football player, talked about his campaign at a coffee shop in West Omaha. Like Heidel, Lindstrom is focusing on fiscal issues.

“We are spending ourselves into oblivion,” he said. “And we are heading down the path of Western European socialism.”

He calls himself a “conservative first, Republican second,” and said he agrees with the Tea Party’s emphasis on smaller government:

“That’s one of the big issues that they take on, and I think Republicans should be going down that path,” he said. “I mean, historically speaking, that’s what they believe in, and that really hasn’t been the case for the last several decades.”

If elected, Lindstrom said he would stop raiding the social security trust fund for other government purposes, lower corporate taxes to make them more globally competitive and get rid of Congressional pensions.

Freeman talked about his policy ideas in the basement of his West Omaha home, where the walls are lined with plaques, certificates and photos from his Air Force days. Like his fellow candidates, he had a lot to say about federal spending – he called social security “a ponzi scheme,” said income taxes are “unconstitutional” and lambasted the size of the national debt.

Freeman said Terry is incapable of achieving real change on a national level, while at the same time criticized him for “meddling” in local affairs.

“He comes back and speaks in the third person. It’s always, Them people in Washington.’ Well, how is it Them people in Washington’ when you are in Washington?” he said. “Mr. Terry’s got to understand that he’s no longer on the city council.”

Despite the candidates’ enthusiasm – Heidel and Lindstrom say they’re out canvassing and talking to voters almost every day – they know they face an uphill battle.

Terry’s seeking his eighth term, even though he originally pledged to serve no more than three. But political science professor Wagner said any anger over his decision to renege on that pledge is past being useful for opponents.

Wagner added that Terry’s name-recognition, funding and conservative credentials make it difficult for any challenger to gain a foothold, but Freeman and the other primary candidates remained optimistic:

“The time for me to do this and then go back and watch American Idol,’ I don’t do it that way,” Freeman said. “What you’ve got to do is stay engaged. I intend to stay engaged with this, and to better this country.”

Attempts by NET to interview Congressman Terry were unsuccessful.

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