Rep. Lee Terry (R)
Nebraska 2nd District
Omaha is the commercial heart of Nebraska and the largest city on the Great Plains north of Kansas City and west of Minneapolis. It got its start from the government, when President Lincoln picked it as the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific railroad, from which emerged the stockyards and livestock exchange that made it a thriving town. Over the years, Omaha filled up with cattle hands and European immigrants, especially Germans and Czechs. It developed fine civic institutions, from the Joslyn Art Museum to Boys Town, an orphanage founded by the Rev. Edward Flanagan (Father Flanagan) in 1917 and the subject of a 1938 movie. Today, the facility is a gender-neutral home for troubled youth called Boys and Girls Town. Though a major city by the 1880s, Omaha has remained small enough to be manageable. One doesn’t feel distant, physically or psychologically, from the other side of town, and residents usually know people from a broader range of backgrounds than they might in a large, homogeneous, big-city neighborhood. The older, less affluent part of Omaha is near Iowa and the Missouri River. Downtown and the riverfront have experienced a construction boom; the Tower at First National Center is the tallest structure between Minneapolis and Denver. To the west, the city has been quietly flourishing with the rise of upscale neighborhoods and new shopping malls. Omaha has also entered into the Wall Street vernacular as the place where investor Warren Buffett lives and works.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Omaha’s economy has been changing. It remains dependent on the overseas trade of meat and is home to many processors of food products, including ConAgra Foods, Omaha Steaks, and Nebraska Beef. However, it has also become the nation’s telecommunications hub, handling 20 million ‘800’ and ‘900’ calls a day and employing more than 30,000 people in more than three dozen telemarketing centers. The city is also ethnically diverse: About 30% of students in the Omaha public schools are black and about 20% are Hispanic.
The 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska includes most of metropolitan Omaha: Douglas County, which includes Omaha and its western suburbs, and the eastern part of fast-growing Sarpy County, which houses Bellevue and the Offutt Air Force Base, headquarters of the U.S. Strategic Air Command. STRATCOM opened a foreign language training center here in 2005 and in 2008, local leaders pushed for a new cyber-command headquarters. Politically, Omaha has long had competitive politics, with Democrats strong on the south side around the stockyards and the northeast and Republicans strong on the west side. But as Omaha and Nebraska have boomed, they have become more Republican, and increasingly it is the Republican primary that decides elections here. But in 2008, Democratic nominee Barack Obama banked on the district being competitive, and opened three offices and enlisted some 1,500 volunteers. His efforts paid off. He won the district 50%-49%.
Rep. Lee Terry (R)
Elected: 1998, 6th term.
Born: Jan. 29, 1962, Omaha .
Education: U. of NE at Lincoln, B.A. 1984; Creighton U., J.D. 1987.
Family: Married (Robyn); 3 children.
Elected office: Omaha City Cncl., 1991-98, Pres., 1995-96.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1988-98.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Lee Terry, a Republican first elected in 1998. Terry grew up in Omaha and became interested in politics at age 14 when his father, television anchor Lee Terry Sr., a conservative Republican, ran and lost a race for the House in 1976 against Democrat John Cavanaugh. Terry Sr. remained a prominent local commentator on politics, and his son went off to college and law school, practiced law, and at 29, was elected to the Omaha City Council from an affluent west-side district. When Republican U.S. Rep. Jon Christensen ran for governor, Terry announced his bid for the House seat. His chief opponents were Brad Kuiper, owner of a pest control business, and Steve Kupka, former chief of staff to Omaha Mayor Hal Daub and an official in President Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget. The contrast among the three was less on issues—all were for lower taxes and against abortion —than on style and approach. Kuiper, with less money than the other two, targeted religious conservatives and emphasized cultural issues. Kupka assembled Washington endorsements and, spending the most money, went on the attack. He criticized Terry for not opposing a 1991 garbage fee and said Terry had increased the city’s budget. Terry won 40% to 30% for Kupka and 26% for Kuiper. The general election was anticlimactic. Despite the fact that Democrats had won open seats here in 1976 and 1988, Terry won 66%-34% against Democrat Michael Scott. In April 1999, shortly after taking office, he reneged on his pledge to serve only three terms.
|Lee Terry (R)||142,473||(52%)||($1,838,836)|
|Jim Esch (D)||131,901||(48%)||($843,515)|
|Lee Terry (R)||23,146||(84%)|
|Steven Laird (R)||4,288||(16%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (55%), 2004 (61%), 2002 (63%), 2000 (66%), 1998 (66%)
In Washington, Terry has a moderate-to-conservative voting record and occasionally is a consensus-seeker. On the Energy and Commerce Committee, he worked with Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia to provide federal funds for high-speed Internet service to low-income and rural areas. In 2007, he successfully joined Democrat U.S. Rep Baron Hill of Indiana on a bill to increase average fuel efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon for cars, although he opposed raising the standard to that level for light trucks, widely used by Nebraska farmers. Terry is generally low key, so it surprised his colleagues in August 2007 when he told Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois to “shut up” after Jackson said that Republicans could not be trusted during a House floor debate. Terry stormed across the aisle and reportedly cursed at Jackson, who then suggested they “go outside.” But the two men did not come to blows.
Terry has survived some well-funded, re-election opponents. In 2004, state Sen. Nancy Thompson ran an aggressive campaign against him while other Democrats mocked his “decency” values when he held a Washington fundraiser at a Madonna concert. A Terry spokesman called her a legitimate entertainer. Despite polls indicating a tight contest, Terry won 61%-36%. Two years later, political newcomer Jim Esch, who worked for the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, held him to a 55%-45% win. Terry got only 53% in Douglas County, which cast 82% of the vote. He attributed the closer outcome to discontent over the war in Iraq, which was “deeper than I perceived it to be, honestly.”
In 2008, Esch decided to run again, encouraged by Barack Obama’s grassroots efforts in the 2nd District, where the presidential candidate and U.S. senator from Illinois was vying for one of three electoral votes that Nebraska awards on the basis of congressional districts. Douglas County Democrats registered a slew of new voters and outnumbered Republicans in total voters for the first time since 1994. Esch linked his candidacy to Obama’s and attacked Terry’s congressional record, questioning why he had not been elected to a leadership position during a decade in Washington. Terry hit back by criticizing Esch for accepting $100,000 in agriculture subsidies.
Terry was cognizant of Obama’s appeal in urban areas. His campaign mailed post cards to independent women urging them to split their ballot by voting Obama-Terry, and the campaign ran a television ad in which a young woman says, “I’ll admit, I’m voting for Obama and Lee Terry.” He also did not underestimate Esch or the projected strength of Obama’s coattails. Terry outraised Esch more than 2-to-1 and went door-to-door asking for support, and both national parties got involved. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Republican vice presidential nominee Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska made campaign stops in the district. Two weeks before the election, the National Republican Campaign Committee poured $400,000 into the race and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $745,801.
Terry won with 52% of the vote. He narrowly prevailed in Douglas County, which Obama carried by 51%, but he won by big margins in Republican-leaning Sarpy County.