Districts 1 and 3: the ''quiet' Nebraska congressional races

Most of the attention on Nebraska's congressional races has been on the 2nd district. The 1st and 3rd districts have been the state's "quiet" races. (Photo courtesy johrling/Flickr)
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November 1, 2016 - 6:45am

While the race for Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district has been the center of attention in this campaign, districts 1 and 3 have gone largely unnoticed. 

At a fundraiser for the Dodge County Democrats in Fremont, a small group of donors, party members, and volunteers met and mingled. Before long, County Chair Merv Peck took the podium.

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Dan Wik is a medical doctor specializing in pain management. He's running as the democratic nominee for Nebraska's 1st congressional district. (courtesy photo)

Peck soon introduced some candidates representing the party heading into the November 8th elections. One-by-one, several give short stump speeches, then Peck introduces the final candidate to speak: Dan Wik

Wik is a medical doctor running for the 1st district congressional seat. It encompasses parts of eastern Nebraska, including Lincoln and Bellevue. He’s been trying to get his name out to voters, who he says have been without a voice for far too long.

“I have come up with well thought-out solutions. They’re not democratic, they’re not republican. They are common sense solutions," Wik said. "People are sick of not having any kind of representation in District 1 and they deserve better.”

Name recognition is something Wik’s opponent, Republican incumbent Jeff Fortenberry, has had no trouble with. For the past 12 years, he’s held this seat. He said heading into this election though, most of what he’s heard from his constituency has placed more importance on the presidential election and what’s happening in Washington.

“Unfortunately, many Americans believe it’s the job of congress - this is statistically proven - to do whatever the president says. That’s not true. It creates some difficulties, particularly in a presidential cycle, in that all the intensity of focus is at that level. Whereas, we ought to have an ongoing focus as well on the dynamics of the elections going on around the country for the United States Congress,” Fortenberry said.

Fortenberry and Wik differ on several prominent issues affecting Nebraskans. That includes health care, which has been an issue in the national election cycle. Wik, who calls himself fiscally conservative, is advocating for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all health care system. Fortenberry said he wants to expand the role of health savings accounts, helping people save for their health care needs and supplement their retirement.

Jeff Fortenberry is the republican incumbent in Nebraska's 1st District. He's held the seat for 12 years. (courtesy photo)

The two also differ in resources. According to the Federal Election Commission, Fortenberry’s campaign has close to $1.6 million cash-on-hand. Wik however has not raised over $5,000 for his campaign, which would require him to file with the FEC.

Vince Powers is the chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party. He said as a candidate relying on a full-time job outside of the campaign, Wik is at a disadvantage compared to Fortenberry.

“Dr. Wik has made a decision to practice medicine full-time. As a result, it’s been difficult for him to campaign. The party certainly will help anyone, but it’s difficult when the candidate is personally unable to campaign,” Powers said.

Wik’s lack of time and resources is not exclusive to District 1. In Nebraska’s congressional District 3, Republican incumbent Adrian Smith is running unopposed. In 2012 and 2014, democratic candidate Mark Sullivan ran against Smith and lost both times. Powers said that’s discouraged potential democratic candidates from running.

“As a practical matter, people who are thinking about running say, ‘Well, Mark was only able to raise so much money, how would I do something different?’" Powers said. 

Diane Duffin is an associate professor and chair of political science at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Duffin said the last time a Democrat was elected to the 3rd district was in 1959.

“In the 3rd district, the democratic challenger could typically count on getting 30 to 35 percent of the vote. That’s something an incumbent office holder should not ignore," Duffin said. "There’s a sizable proportion of the constituency that would like to at least examine some alternatives, have a discussion of the issues that a contested election lets you do. But when there’s no contest, the discussion simply doesn’t take place. Those voters never get heard from. That’s probably not good for the health of democracy or a competitive two-party system.”

Smith said it’s something he’s kept in mind as well heading into this election cycle. He’s been travelling across his district talking to potential voters. He says it’s his priority to hear the concerns of democrats and republicans alike.

“From my very first campaign to now I’ve maintained a similar pace of meeting folks where they are, finding out their concerns. It’s important I take their concerns and ideas to Washington, just as I have in the past.” Smith said.



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