Two Lincoln Democrats Face Off In Nebraska's 1st District Primary

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May 10, 2018 - 6:45am

Two Democrats are challenging each other in Nebraska’s 1st District Democratic primary. The winner will face incumbent Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican, in the general election in November. NET’s Brandon McDermott reports as part of NET News Campaign Connection 2018 election coverage.

Dennis Crawford and Jessica McClure have a lot in common. They’re both Democrats, they both work and live in Lincoln. They both also think they’ve set the groundwork to win next week’s primary election. Crawford has run for office before, in 2014 against Jeff Fortenberry. Crawford lost that general election race 69 percent to 31 percent.

Crawford says 2016, with President Trump being elected, was a rough year for Democrats and Americans. He calls both Fortenberry and President Trump’s policies bad for Nebraska.

“Trump is the president and Fortenberry is voting with him 97 percent of the time and the Trump presidency has exposed Jeff Fortenberry as the extremist that he is – let’s put it into a rather sharp release," Crawford said. "I'd also say that the Democratic voters are much more energized and passionate than they were four years ago.”

Crawford, a Lincoln lawyer, thinks Democratic voters are energized around the country. He says his platform has what he calls crossover appeal, from making government healthcare programs open to everyone, to banning assault weapons, investing in infrastructure and moving towards renewable energy.

“Most Nebraskans like to see more middle class jobs in the area of renewable energy and infrastructure. I mean Nebraska is the fourth windiest state in the country – we’ve got great capacity for generating wind energy. Everybody I talk to thinks that's a good idea," Crawford said.

Crawford says Nebraskan’s number one issue is healthcare. He says with the individual mandate being taken away, healthcare costs are sure to rise.

“Under my plan any individual or business could select Medicare or Medicaid as their health insurance company – this would open up policies, new policies, make them available to thousands of Nebraskans that are simply not available right now,” Crawford said.

McClure has worked as a regulatory compliance specialist following law school. She’s also worked in chemical regulatory and animal health compliance.  She organized civic engagement events related to the women’s march in Lincoln in 2017. She says that march is one of the many reasons she is running.

“We had a couple of events where there was a lot of misogyny because there were young women running it. I'm not that young. I'm 36, but I got, ‘Who's that girl?’ a lot – obviously (they were) not very excited a young woman was leading the event,” McClure said.

McClure says whether its misogyny or ageism, she’s had enough of it.

“A lot of us feel we're not being heard because ‘you're too young to run for office.’ I've heard that so many times but you know what? There's a whole generation of us who have massive student loan debts and can't find jobs because of the bad economy,” McClure said. “I think we need to do something about the high student loan interest rates we need to decrease – why isn’t it in line more with mortgages?”

McClure says the deciding factor for her was when Fortenberry voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017. She says she knows firsthand what many Americans are going through in searching for healthcare services that are inexpensive.

“At some point, I just go nobody is going to work hard enough at this, I'm going to do it. I'm just going to take it into of my own hands – even if that means all I do is knock doors in Lincoln and tell people what he's doing then I've done my part,” McClure said.

McClure’s daughter has eosinophilic esophagitis, an inflammatory condition of the esophagus. She says it was expensive and exhausting getting the diagnosis.

McClure thinks of herself as a classic pragmatist.

“I like to really think about the policy we're working, I research it and I don't always have that canned answer that you hear politicians say. I do get push back on (that), with ‘you need an answer, right now!’ I'm like, “I need five minutes to think about this, to make sure that I'm not telling you the wrong thing,’” McClure said.

The winner of this Democratic primary will face Republican incumbent Jeff Fortenberry. Fortenberry agrees with McClure and Crawford about the healthcare debate being at a standstill. He says he is considering the issue from a different perspective.

“The goal has to remain to protect vulnerable persons, improve the health care options and choice while lowering costs," Fortenberry said. "What I've done recently is introduce a new concept in the farm bill, which will go to one part of the health care problem: helping farmers and ranchers through qualified agricultural associations create risk pools for better insurance products. This is gaining a lot of national traction and I'm proud of it, because it's a way to break through what is a deep philosophical divide and a stagnant policy debate in Washington around the right type of health care reform.”

Fortenberry doesn’t have a primary challenger, but he says his plate is still full with being a legislator and running a reelection campaign.

According to the latest information reported to the Federal Election Commission, Fortenberry has about $1.8 million cash on hand. Crawford has about $15,000 and McClure has about $1,400. Fortenberry will take on the winner of the McClure-Crawford race in the November general election.

Editor's Note:  This story contains a correction from a previous version which incorrectly stated pre-existing conditions had been taken away within the Affordable Care Act.



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