Former Rep. Backed By National Dems Loses To Liberal Primary Challenger

US President Barack Obama and Rep Brad Ashford, Republican from Nebraska, step off Air Force One upon arrival at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska on January 13, 2016. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo cred... US President Barack Obama and Rep Brad Ashford, Republican from Nebraska, step off Air Force One upon arrival at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska on January 13, 2016. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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May 16, 2018 12:05 a.m.

Former Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE) fell short in the primary for his comeback bid to a more progressive challenger Tuesday, a stunning disappointment to national Democrats that could be a blow to the party’s chances of winning the GOP-leaning seat.

Liberal nonprofit executive Kara Eastman (D) won the Democratic nomination by a scant 1126-vote margin, a number outside the window which would trigger an automatic recount under Nebraska law. The gap is wide enough that Ashford will have a tough time overcoming it even if there is a recount.

That’s a major disappointment for national Democrats, who had banked on him making a comeback run this election.

They had gone all-in for Ashford in recent months — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tacitly endorsed him over Eastman early this year by putting him on their “red-to-blue” program, and a number of members helped Ashford raise money for the race.

But while Ashford basically started his general election campaign early, running ads touting his accomplishments bringing a VA medical center back to the district, Eastman ran hard to Ashford’s left on a number of issues. She declared in one campaign ad that she’s “the only candidate for Congress who stands for universal health care and ending massive tax breaks for millionaires that threaten the middle class.”

And while the primary remained quite civil — his niece is close friends with her daughter — an Eastman win would set up a far different general election campaign, one national Democrats feel far less confident about.

President Trump won the Omaha-based district by two percentage points, and Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), a former Air Force general, proved to be a solid campaigner last election cycle.

Democrats were excited that Ashford, a moderate Republican-turned-Democrat who lost by just one point last fall, would give Bacon a tough challenge. But they worry that Eastman’s support of single-payer healthcare could prove an especially tough sell in the swing district given the high number of jobs dependent on the healthcare and health insurance industries that are based in Omaha.

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