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Republicans boast a tight hold on the Cornhusker State’s delegation, leaving only one legitimate opportunity for Democrats to advance to Congress in the near future.
Last year, the GOP closed its grasp on the delegation by picking up a Senate seat previously held by Democrats. As a result, Republicans hold the state’s three House seats and two Senate seats.
To rebound, Democrats are focused on stealing the somewhat competitive 2nd District this cycle, while also fostering a deeper bench of talent for future cycles.
“There are a lot of promising candidates in the state legislature,” said Barry Rubin, the former executive chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party. “We are probably two years off.”
Meanwhile, the pipeline of GOP candidates continues to expand while future congressional contenders wait their turn for open-seat races and primary opportunities.
For many politicians, that opportunity comes next year: Gov. Dave Heineman and many state lawmakers will be ineligible to seek re-election because of term limit laws, and GOP Sen. Mike Johanns’ retirement has prompted a wide-open race for his seat in 2014.
“We are really focused on getting out and recruiting good Republicans to run for state legislature, to build a solid — for lack of a better term — bench,” said Robert Synhorst, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party.
All three House Republicans from Nebraska turned down an opportunity to seek Johanns’ seat, paving the way for a competitive GOP primary between former state Treasurer Shane Osborn, attorney Bart McLeay, bank president Sid Dinsdale and Midland University President Ben Sasse.
Democrats are not focused on the Senate race, instead turning their attention to the potentially competitive 2nd District. Democrats recruited Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen to challenging eight-term Rep. Lee Terry, a Republican.
After initially turning down a bid, Festersen decided to run, chalking up his change of mind to the government shutdown in recent media interviews.
President Barack Obama won this Omaha-based district in 2008 by about 1 percent —picking up an electoral vote in the process. But Republicans, who controlled redistricting in the state, modified the district boundaries last cycle to make it easier for the GOP to hold.
Last year, Obama lost the district by 7 points. But in 2012, Terry won by only 2 points — making his district the best opportunity in the state for Democrats to pick up a seat in Congress.
If Festersen fails, there’s no shortage of Omaha Democrats who could run in the 2nd District. Local Democrats named their 2012 nominee against Terry, John Ewing, as a potential candidate. They also speculated that state Sen. Heath Mello could run for the seat, as well as Howard Buffett, the grandson of Warren Buffett.
If Terry retires, Republicans named a few potential candidates as successors, including newly elected Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert —the first woman to hold that office.