Republicans hope a former Democratic congressman's loss in a Nebraska swing district primary will help them hold on to the chamber in November.
Social worker and political newcomer Kara Eastman declared victory Tuesday night over ex-Rep. Brad Ashford in the Democratic primary for Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District. Eastman ran to the left of Ashford, supporting Medicare for all and other policies championed by leaders and organizations that bill themselves as progressive.
November's 2nd District election figures to be competitive. Incumbent Republican Rep. Don Bacon beat Ashford by only 1 percentage point to win the Omaha-area seat in 2016. But the GOP got the result it desired Tuesday, as Republicans think a candidate further to the ideological left will have a tougher time winning the swing district.
"Far-left progressives are winning the war for the soul of the Democratic Party, and it appears they have their first scalp in former Congressman Brad Ashford," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Jack Pandol said in a statement.
He said Eastman's policies "are a better fit for San Francisco than Nebraska." Michael Byerly, a spokesman for the House GOP-linked super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund, also said the group "looks forward to informing voters" about Eastman's policy goals.
In many competitive congressional districts that sit on the ideological center or right, national Democrats have put their weight behind more moderate candidates in a push to better compete in the November midterms. The tactic has worked in several early primary elections but did not in Nebraska.
At least one nonpartisan election analysis site thinks the Democratic primary result helps Bacon in November. Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia moved its rating of the race to "leans Republican" from "toss-up."
The site's managing editor Kyle Kondik wrote that "basically the NRCC got what it wanted and the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] didn't."
Eastman harnessed an energized Democratic Party on her way to Tuesday's victory. Aside from supporting Medicare for all, she supports raising the minimum wage and universal background checks on gun purchases.
The Democrat says she thinks her policies are consistent with her district, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
"People need health care," Eastman said, according to the newspaper. "They deserve health care. Income inequality is outrageous and we need to address it because there's far too many people living in poverty and struggling."
Eastman's allies also disputed the notion that she cannot compete in a swing district. Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which endorsed Eastman, said backing policies such as Medicare for all and higher minimum wage "is how Democrats can win in red, purple and blue districts and maximize a wave in 2018."