Democrats stressing gridlock in bids to unseat 1st and 3rd District Republicans

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October 28th, 2014

Lincoln, NE – In the 1st and 3rd Congressional districts in Nebraska, Democrats are challenging the Republican incumbents with an emphasis on resolving gridlock in Congress. But they face an uphill battle against established Republican incumbents. Dennis Crawford knows the history of Democrats in Nebraska’s 1st district, an area that includes Lincoln, Norfolk and Bellevue. Democrats haven’t won the 1st District since the 1960s. The attorney and Lincoln-native hopes to change that against 5-term Republican Jeff Fortenberry. This is Crawford’s first run for elected office. He says his experience as an attorney would help him bridge partisan divisions in Congress.

“I’m required as part of my profession to find common ground with people that I disagree with,” Crawford said. “And I’ve been largely successful in doing that for 28 years and I would take that problem solving experience to Washington. It’s an approach we very badly need right now.”

If elected Crawford’s priority would be boosting the middle class by investing in renewable energy and infrastructure – and by raising the federal minimum wage.

No Democrat has represented Nebraska's 1st or 3rd Congressional District since the 1960s. (Photo courtesy Bill Dickinson/Flickr)

No Democrat has represented Nebraska’s 1st or 3rd Congressional District since the 1960s. (Photo courtesy Bill Dickinson/Flickr)

“I do favor raising it to $10.10 per hour over the next three years,” Crawford said. “The minimum wage has been raised in 15 cities in the recent past. All the predictions from the right about bad things that would happen from the increase in the minimum wage did not happen.” Raising the Nebraska minimum wage is on the November ballot. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry says that’s fine. While he says he has supported federal increases in the past, he voted against increases in 2007 and 2013. Right now, Fortenberry says the issue is better handled at the state level. He says there are other ways Washington can support the working class.

“Why are we struggling with the minimum wage? Because health care costs are going up. Because food costs are going up,” Fortenberry said. “And why is that? Because we’re paying off debt through printing money in Washington. You’ve got to get the fiscal house in order.”

Fortenberry was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2004 after serving on the Lincoln City Council. He referred back to that old position while talking about one of his priorities if re-elected, tackling the federal debt and deficit.

“We never had enough for everything we wanted to do,” Fortenberry said. “But you’ve got to find balance between providing good, necessary public services and paying for it. That’s a debate that needs to be had in Washington.”

Democrats and Republicans have been battling over the budget and tax reforms. But while partisan wrangling has drawn down Congressional approval ratings, incumbent candidates still hold an advantage at election time. Peter Longo is a political scientist at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

“Name recognition. Campaign financing. There still is that incumbency advantage despite the mistrust of the institution,” Longo said.

Democrats face a particular challenge in the 1st and 3rd districts in Nebraska. Most voters are registered Republicans, and the Republican incumbents have a big lead on fundraising. They’ve raised over $1.5 million – their Democratic challengers, about $100,000.

Longo says it takes resources to cover an area the size of the 3rd district, which touches all four corners of the state.

“You can’t just take out a radio ad,” Longo said. “You have to show up in Imperial, Nebraska. Then you have to work your way over to Crawford, and then you should stop into Chadron. Those are long drives.” Democrat Mark Sullivan is crisscrossing the 3rd District running against Republican incumbent Adrian Smith. Sullivan also ran in 2012. The farmer and cattle feeder from Doniphan says he decided to run again because of gridlock in Congress and the government shutdown last year.

“All I’ll say is there were 435 representatives and 100 senators and the government got shut down,” Sullivan said. “And I’m not going to fix blame, I’m just going to try and go fix it.”

Sullivan also faults partisanship for the failure to pass immigration reform. A bipartisan bill passed in the Democrat-controlled Senate in 2013 has never come up for a vote in the Republican-controlled House. Congressman Adrian Smith says bills passed by one chamber blocked by the other is a problem that goes both ways.

“When we pass over 300 bills in the House that don’t even get any even debate over in the Senate, that’s not what our process should be about,” Smith said. “That also doesn’t mean that the president should just use his pen and phone to subvert the process either.”

President Obama has said if Congress doesn’t reach compromise on immigration he’ll take action himself, through executive order. Democrat Sullivan would prefer to see Congress decide the issue, though he sympathizes with the president.

“I think it’s probably out of his job description,” Sullivan said. “But I’ll give him a little bit of a pass on that because of Congress’ inaction. And I’m not blaming the gridlock or the inaction on the Republicans or the Democrats. It’s both of them.”

If re-elected, Smith says he’ll try to work through differences with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle while working toward his priorities of tax reform and trade expansion.

“There’s diversity of thought on issues just within the Republican conference,” Smith said. “So I spend a lot of time working with colleagues, regardless of party, in explaining to them what the challenges are facing rural America.”

Congressmen Smith and Fortenberry have each won by large margins in the last few elections. Their Democratic challengers are hoping the direction of Congress has voters looking in a new direction. We’ll find out on November 4.

 

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