Rep. Adrian Smith (R)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: Dec. 19, 1970, Scottsbluff .
Education: Attended Liberty U., 1989-90, U. of NE, B.S. 1993.
Religion: Evangelical Free.
Elected office: Gering City Council, 1994-98, NE Unicameral, 1998-2006.
Professional Career: Realtor, Buyer Realty, 1997-2006; Owner, My Other Garage, 2003-06.
The congressman from the 3rd District is Adrian Smith, the youngest of the 13 freshmen Republicans elected to the House in 2006. He hails from a politically active family—his father is a former county Republican chairman, and his mother is the state GOP secretary. But the most significant political influence in Smith’s life was President Reagan. When he was in fourth grade, Smith recalls, adults around him were weighing Reagan’s attributes against that of Democrat Jimmy Carter’s, and it sunk into the boy’s head that Reagan favored a strong defense. “It just made sense to me that we needed a strong military,” said Smith, whose congressional office is filled with portraits of the former president. In college, Smith served as an intern in the Nebraska governor’s office and as a page in the state’s unicameral Legislature. At 23, shortly after graduating from the University of Nebraska, he won election to the Gering City Council in his hometown. Four years later, he knocked off a Democratic incumbent to win the first of two terms in the Legislature. There, Smith devoted his efforts to opposing abortion rights, protecting Nebraskans’ right to bear arms, fighting tax increases, and blocking efforts to expand casino gambling. He also worked as a real estate agent and storage-business owner. In May 2005, two weeks after U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne, a Republican, announced his ultimately unsuccessful primary bid for governor, Smith joined the race for Osborne’s seat in Congress.
|Adrian Smith (R)||183,117||(77%)||($623,810)|
|Jay Stoddard (D)||55,087||(23%)|
|Adrian Smith (R)||55,225||(87%)|
|Jeremiah Ellison (R)||7,947||(13%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (55%)
The crowded Republican primary field included Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek and John Hanson, Osborne’s former district director. Smith championed tax incentives to attract new residents and encourage investment in the district, which is threatened with elimination in the next census because of population declines. He also promised to expand markets globally for Nebraska farmers. Still, his opponents charged that he betrayed rural Nebraska by accepting more than $300,000 in contributions from members of the Club for Growth, a national anti-tax group that opposes farm subsidies. Smith supports caps on subsidies, which many of his farming constituents do not. In response to his opponents’ criticism, he pointed to his support from the Nebraska Farm Bureau. Smith ultimately carried 39 of the 69 counties to win the nomination with 39%. Hanson finished second with 29% and was strongest in the Republican River valley south of North Platte, while Vavricek’s 27% came mainly from the Grand Island area.
For the 2006 general election, the Democratic Party fielded an unusually strong nominee: Yale-educated, cattle rancher Scott Kleeb. He accused Smith of “distorting the truth” about the Club for Growth’s opposition to farm subsidies. Smith responded that the group backed him because of his record on taxes. Smith sought to link Kleeb to Democrats who supported a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and he portrayed Kleeb as a political carpetbagger who grew up overseas on military bases and attended schools in Colorado and Connecticut before settling in Nebraska on a family-owned ranch. Kleeb’s retort was, “You don’t run as a Democrat in the 3rd District because you thought it would be easy.” Kleeb called for changes in farm policy to emphasize niche markets and made the contest much closer than anybody expected. Each candidate raised more than $1 million. After late-October polling showed a virtual toss-up, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran an ad attacking Smith for accepting campaign money from “Washington special interests.” President Bush made one of his final campaign stops of the season here to try to help Smith. He won 55%-45%, though Kleeb won a dozen counties in the eastern portion of the district.
In Washington, Smith landed a seat on the Agriculture Committee and focused his early efforts on the rewrite of farm policy, working to expand rural development programs, increase research of algae biomass and other biofuels, and seek international markets for Nebraska crops. He stood by President Bush as support for the war in Iraq waned, even turning down the Democrats’ offer of billions of dollars in drought relief if he joined them in pushing timetables for withdrawing troops. Smith describes himself as an economic conservative in Reagan’s mold: “I believe in a market-based approach. Government is not the solution to everything. That’s why I’m not in a rush to introduce a whole lot of bills. I’ll introduce bills that I think are a good idea and work for their passage.”
In the 2008 primary, Smith easily defeated Jeremiah Ellison, an activist supporter of libertarian Ron Paul of Texas. Kleeb turned down a rematch against Smith and instead ran for the U.S. Senate.