Race for 2nd District turns ugly

Terry leads White in fundraising

Published Sunday, October 24, 2010: By Margery A. Beck, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

OMAHA -- With a little more than a week before the Nov. 2 election, the campaign for Nebraska's 2nd House District seat has turned decidedly ugly.

There were hints from the beginning that the race pitting six-term incumbent GOP Rep. Lee Terry against Democratic challenger, state Sen. Tom White of Omaha, would get nasty. White had no sooner announced his candidacy last September than he had blamed Terry's inattention in Washington for the failure of Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha to land a military command -- a move that would have brought 900 new military and civilian jobs to Nebraska' 2nd District.

Terry soon countered that White was a tax-and-spend Democrat who would have voted for Democrats' health care overhaul -- a measure vilified by Republicans and one that touched a nerve in heavily conservative Nebraska, whose lone congressional Democrat provided the vote needed to advance the health care bill.

More than a year later, White's campaign has been running television ads referencing a July New York Post article that reported Terry was overheard at a Washington club asking a female lobbyist, "Why did you get me so drunk?"

Terry has vehemently denied the account and has accused White of launching a personal attack on him and his family.

"I think the ad that Tom's running right now is deceitful. It's dishonest. That incident didn't happen," Terry said following a recent debate with White. "He should be talking about the issues. This is the most despicable campaign I've seen in Nebraska -- the worst one I've ever been involved in."

White's campaign defends the ad, saying it's intended to show that Terry is beholden to lobbyists.

"Listen, it's a competitive race; it's tight race," said Ian Russell, White's campaign manager. "But we're focused on giving Lee Terry a rendezvous with his record.

"This is a guy who voted to double the national debt, add trillions to the deficit and bail out Wall Street," Russell said. "He talks a good game, but his record is very, very different. And we're going to keep making those contrasts up until the election."

The television ad wars reflect the seat's importance to both national GOP and Democratic parties, which are battling for control of Congress in the Nov. 2 election.

Both political parties and a number of political publications had considered the seat vulnerable to a Democratic takeover this election, based on closer-than-expected vote margins for Terry's seat in the last two elections and the fact that the electoral vote affiliated with Nebraska's 2nd District went to President Barack Obama in 2008.

But as sentiment has turned against incumbents -- particularly seen in the tea party movement -- and Obama's popularity has dropped, most of those publications and analysts have concluded that the seat is likely safe for Terry.

"I think White is a really strong candidate running in a really bad year for Democrats," said Dr. John Hibbing, a political science professor with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "I think he's the strongest candidate that's run in that district for the Democrats for a while, but I don't think that's going to be enough to unseat an incumbent Republican in this climate."

Historically, voter turnout tends to drop in non-presidential election years, which usually is to the incumbent's advantage. Lower turnout is also typically seen in mid-cycle election years among independent voters -- of which there are nearly 83,000 in Nebraska's 2nd District. That could be a deciding factor in the Omaha-centric district, where registered Republicans number about 152,000, compared with 146,000 registered Democrats.

Terry's campaign notes that in 2006, only about 32 percent of nonpartisan voters cast ballots, compared with nearly half of all registered voters. Even in 2008, when the district went to Obama, Terry garnered about half of the independent vote, said Terry campaign spokesman Dave Boomer.

"If the Democrats could win every independent voter in November -- and the turnout is the same as it was in 2006 -- it would still come out even," Boomer said.

The Republican incumbents in Nebraska's other two House seats are heavily favored over their challengers, having outraised campaign money by hundreds of thousands of dollars over their opponents.

In the Lincoln-centric 1st District, incumbent Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry faces Democrat Ivy Harper on Nov. 2. In Nebraska's vast rural 3rd District, Rep. Adrian Smith squares off against Democrat Rebekah Davis and independent Dan Hill.


< Return to News Page