Opinion: Will the blue wave hit the heartland?
OMAHA, Neb. — I’ll take the #bluewave for $300.
That’s the powerful title for the fundraiser being held here in an Irish pub just down the street from Boys Town. The centerpiece of the evening is a barroom game of Jeopardy, played by three onetime Omaha-area Jeopardy contestants, and the beneficiary, a Democratic challenger in a House district that Donald J. Trump barely carried two years ago, is at a table explaining why she favors a Medicare-for-all health plan.
‘’The amount of money families are paying for health care is astronomical,’’ Kara Eastman, who heads a local nonprofit, is telling Bill Warzak, a retired child psychologist. He is drinking a Zipline, an IPA bottled in the state capital of Lincoln, she is nursing a Diet Coke. ‘’We’re getting used to those charges. We just accept it. But these are outrageous costs.’’
Eastman, 46, who is trying to defeat GOP Rep. Don Bacon, is campaigning this evening in the western fringes of Omaha but is on the front line of next month’s midterm elections. Nebraska has voted Republican in every presidential election in the last hundred years except for the Democratic landslides of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1936) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1964). In 2016 Hillary Rodham Clinton took only a third of the Nebraska vote, winning only two of the 93 counties in this state. One of them was here in Douglas County.
That makes this contest — a freshman Republican and a novice challenger in a district skeptical of abortion restrictions and broad gun rights — a key test of the Republicans’ effort to keep the House and of the Democrats’ drive to end one-party rule in Washington and deliver a message of repudiation to the president.
‘’If the blue wave is big enough—if it is real and national—she gets carried along,’’ says former Democratic Rep. John J Cavanaugh, who represented this district from 1977-81.
Omaha and the state that stretches from the Missouri River toward Colorado once typified the region that John Gunther described in his magisterial 1946 survey of the country as ‘’American uncontaminated,’’ distinguished by ‘’its actual middleness, not only in geography ... but in its averageness, its typicalness.’’
Much of that remains true, along with this observation, which makes this congressional race so significant: "Here sounds the most natural note in the nation."
If that natural note reflects the political blues Democrats seek to harvest in their effort to concoct a blue wave, there is trouble for Trump: a Democratic House where committees have subpoena power, where the threat of impeachment hangs over his every political twist, turn and tweet, where his efforts to raze Obamacare and raise a border wall are doomed. If the Republicans prevail here, and in four dozen other districts scattered about the country, Trump will be insulated from retaliation from his rivals, safe from impeachment threats and well-positioned for re-election two years hence.
The incumbent here is an Air Force brigadier general with a master’s degree from the National War College, potent credentials in an area with many voters working at Offutt Air Force Base, headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Command and located just outside the district.
Bacon, 55, has four times as much money at his disposal, with more to come from business groups appreciative of his support for the Trump tax cuts. He won his seat two years ago by defeating Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford by only 3,464 votes, his victory sealing GOP domination here: Republicans hold both Senate seats, all three House seats, the governor’s chair and a 30-16 majority in the state’s unusual one-chamber state legislature.
But that profile isn’t fully represented in this metropolitan and suburban district. ‘’These are conservative Republicans, but not as conservative as they are in central or western Nebraska,’’ says Paul Landon, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska’s Omaha campus. ‘’They’re big-city types. These are white-collar people, middle managers, mainstream Republicans. The prevailing notion is that they don’t like Trump’s tactics and personality, but they like that he’s shaking things up.’’
Trump will shake things up again Tuesday, when he visits Council Bluffs, Iowa, just across the Missouri River, to campaign for Gov. Kim Reynolds and Rep. David Young.
Bacon’s advantage is his incumbency and his alliance with the president. Eastman’s advantage is her outsider status and her opposition to the president.
The two couldn’t project more different profiles. They are the two sides of the partisan and cultural divides. They are the November election writ large.
David Shribman executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.