Democrats Looking to Land Recruit Against Terry

Posted June 22, 2009 at 6:28pm

House Democrats are expected to largely be on defense in 2010 defending many of the freshmen and sophomore lawmakers who gave them their 41-seat majority, but party strategists have set their sights on Rep. Lee Terry’s (R-Neb.) Omaha-based district as one place they might play offense.

Terry won re-election with just 52 percent of the vote last year as President Barack Obama won the 2nd district and its vote in the Electoral College.

Democrats insist that state Sen. Tom White is their best shot to defeat Terry, but did the party miss its chance now that Obama won’t be on the ticket in 2010? With his narrow victory in the previous cycle now in the rearview mirror, Terry said Monday that he will make every effort to post a stronger performance.

“I campaign hard every time and I don’t like being down to 52 percent, and my goal is to get it back up,— Terry said in a phone interview. “I think this is an election where I can do that.—

Terry and many Democrats agree that 2006 and 2008 nominee Jim Esch was not a strong candidate, but the Obama campaign’s heavy spending on advertising in the Omaha media market boosted Esch’s candidacy. Esch has not indicated that he plans to run again in 2010.

“He put up a good fight, but if we had a more high-profile candidate in 2008, it would have been a slam dunk,— said Barry Rubin, the former executive director of the state Democratic Party.

Democrats also like to point to the fact that the city of Omaha has recently drifted toward their candidates, most recently electing a new Democratic mayor over former 2nd district Rep. Hal Daub (R) last month. Rubin noted that Terry’s base is south of the city, in Sarpy County.

“We’re going to find out whether or not [Obama’s win] was a fluke,— Rubin said. “And I don’t think it was. I think the numbers are there in black and white.—

Democrats hope White, who is described as a conservative, anti-abortion-rights Democrat, will have a better shot than Esch even without Obama on the ticket.

White said in a phone interview that he would make a decision in the next few weeks, but he confirmed he had already met with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C., about a potential bid.

“My session just ended at the end of May and beginning of June, so I have been talking to a lot of local folks here who have been urging me to run, and I’m discussing it with my family and giving it serious consideration,— White said. “I expect to make a decision in the next 30 days.—

Terry said that he and White know each other from serving on the state trial lawyers’ board but that his possible challenger had not talked to him about running yet.

“Certainly, Tom White has a more credible résumé, but he also has a voting record,— Terry said. “So actually, for a race, I prefer somebody who has a voting record, and Tom is what he is. I just don’t think he matches up with the demographics of the district right now.—

Former Republican Party Chairman David Kramer acknowledged that Terry was caught off guard in his 2006 race, when the the Republican Congressman went on to defeat Esch for the first time by 10 points. Kramer said Terry was more alert for his 2008 re-election campaign.

“This last go-round, Lee was anything but— complacent, Kramer said. “He worked hard to make sure that he wasn’t caught off guard.—

Like the National Republican Congressional Committee, Kramer also said Democrats had their chance to defeat Terry last cycle with Obama on the ballot.

“The opportunity was the last time around,— Kramer said. “Next cycle, you’re going to have lower turnout because it’s not a presidential year, so it will be even harder.—