Last-Minute Progressive Surge Boosts Kara Eastman in Critical Omaha District

Eastman’s DCCC-backed opponent from 2018 has turned on the Democratic Party, backing the Republican in the district.

Kara Eastman (center right) at a campaign event.
The Democratic candidate for Nebraska's Second Congressional District, Kara Eastman, center, at a campaign event. Photo: Chris Holtmeier/Kara Eastman campaign.

Three progressive groups are ramping up their efforts to help Democrat Kara Eastman defeat incumbent Republican Rep. Don Bacon in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, a crucial battleground that also yields its own individual Electoral College vote. Eastman, who’s going up against millions of dollars from the Republican side, represents one of the left’s best chances at flipping a swing district this cycle. 

Justice Democrats, the group that helped elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the growing Squad, is launching a $350,000 independent expenditure effort to help elect Eastman, who beat the establishment-backed candidate in both the 2018 and 2020 primaries. The group’s infusion of cash will cover two ads that will be featured across digital platforms, broadcast, and TV in the district. 

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is also teaming up with Rebellion PAC to launch a six-figure independent expenditure specifically for Eastman in the coming week, joining the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, which is also spending six figures in the race. 

In 2018, Eastman beat former Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford in the primary, even though Ashford had the public backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. This cycle, he has backed Bacon over Eastman, appearing in a TV ad backing the Republican. “Getting things done in Congress is hard. It takes listening and bipartisanship,” Ashford said in the new ad, running in rotation in Omaha. “Don Bacon and I ran against each other, then we worked together to deliver the new VA hospital and Offutt runway.”

In 2020, Eastman beat Ashford’s wife, Ann Ashford, in the primary. Ann Ashford has refused to make an endorsement in the race, saying on Twitter that her husband’s political decisions are his own and that she has no plans to weigh in. 

“We have a chance to unite behind and elect a progressive Democrat in a swing district this cycle,” Helen Brosnan, a spokesperson for Justice Democrats’ independent spending arm, said in a statement. “Progressives are often accused of not uniting behind Democrats in the general election, but this is a case of a corporate-friendly Democrat with a personal vendetta flipping over to support someone who is fully aligned with Donald Trump’s policies.”

After Eastman’s 2018 primary victory, the DCCC gave her less support relative to other challengers to GOP incumbents. This cycle, the party brass worked to recruit primary challengers to her. But now that Eastman is once again the nominee, the DCCC has given her the party’s full support, pumping well more than$1 million into the race.

Eastman’s race is also nationally important, as the Omaha district, which President Donald Trump carried by 3 percentage points in 2016, has its own Electoral College vote. (Nebraska is one of two states that assigns electoral votes for president to individual congressional districts.) In some maps, this vote could give Joe Biden a victory. A recent poll from the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC found Eastman leading her Republican opponent by 2 points, and Biden leading 53-42, though that came before the ad blitz featuring Brad Ashford.

The PCCC held a virtual fundraiser earlier this week to raise money for Eastman and six other House candidates competing in swing districts. The fundraiser, which was headlined by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Reps. Katie Porter and Jamie Raskin, and likely incoming lawmaker Jamaal Bowman, raised more than $100,000 for their slate of “Red to BOLD” candidates, according to PCCC co-founder Adam Green. During the fundraiser, Porter, who flipped a red California district and is known for her searing interrogations of executives and Trump appointees at congressional hearings, made the case for what progressives could accomplish with more allies in Congress. Most of the races on the Red-to-Bold list are in presidential swing states, with Dana Balter in New York the lone exception.

The first of the two ads Justice Democrats released goes after Bacon’s record on health care, and the quarter of a million dollars he’s taken from the insurance industry. The 30-second ad, which features a pregnant woman, hammers Bacon on his votes to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and to allow health insurance companies to “charge women more just because they’re pregnant.” Bacon voted with Trump over 92 percent of the time this session, according to FiveThirtyEight. Eastman, meanwhile, is a staunch supporter of Medicare for All. 

Outside groups supporting Bacon have outspent the outside groups supporting Eastman by over 2 to 1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and super PACs have dropped more than $5 million to blanket the airwaves for Bacon, as The Intercept previously reported. Ironically, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has stepped in to play a bigger role in boosting Eastman this cycle, planning to spend at least $2.5 million in the race. Some national progressive groups, like Indivisible and the Working Families Party, haven’t met Eastman with the enthusiasm they had last time around. Indivisible, which endorsed Eastman in 2018, hasn’t endorsed this time around. It has sent mail on her behalf, Indivisible Press Secretary Emily Phelps told The Intercept, and has donated $5,000 to her campaign in the 2020 cycle. Working Families Party endorsed Eastman on Sunday afternoon, and has a joint ad buy with MoveOn and Justice Democrats dropping on Monday according to Justice Democrats Communications Director Waleed Shahid.

Update: October 26, 2020
This story has been updated to reflect Working Families Party’s endorsement of Eastman after publication and with more details on Indivisible’s support of Eastman.

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