On May 15, Democrats in Nebraska’s Second Congressional District will have a real choice to make. Brad Ashford, 68, is a longtime politician, with many years in the State Legislature and one term in Congress (2013–15). He’s been a Republican, an independent, and a Democrat, with positions supporters would call moderate and judicious and opponents would call inconsistent, mushy, too conservative, or just plain confusing. Kara Eastman, 45, is a social worker who runs a nonprofit, the Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance, which seeks to make sure that children live in homes free of pollutants like mold and lead. She also sits on the board of Metropolitan Community College. And she more than held her own when the two candidates debated. Eastman came across as knowledgeable, energetic, outgoing, and—that quality so crucial for women and so unimportant for men—likable. (I should mention that I’m a supporter and have donated to her campaign.) Ashford, on the other hand, struck me as somewhere between laid-back and low-key.
Eastman, who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, has a platform much like that of Bernie Sanders: Medicare for All, free college for families making under $150,000, free community college, raising the minimum wage, no Keystone XL pipeline, and no deportation of DACA immigrants.
During his one term in Congress, Ashford generally voted with the Democrats, although The Washington Post rated him the third most likely House Democrat to buck the party, siding with Republicans over 20 percent of the time. That’s a lot of important votes! Ashford supported the Keystone pipeline, for example, voted to roll back Wall Street regulations, and voted to ease requirements on employers for health-insurance coverage. Given his record, progressives are outraged that the DCCC is supporting him over Eastman, putting him on its list of “Red to Blue” candidates—part of a pattern, they say, of favoring centrist candidates over more progressive ones.
At The Intercept, Lee Fang chastised Emily’s List, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPAF), and NARAL for staying out of the race: “A pro-choice woman is running against a male Democrat who voted to restrict abortion. Why are women’s groups silent?”
Fang was a little unfair: True, while in the State Legislature, Ashford was a registered Republican, and was anti-choice. He frequently cast the same votes as Democrat Heath Mello, the energetic, anti-choice Catholic whom pro-choice groups attacked when he ran for mayor of Omaha last year. But in Congress, as a Democrat, Ashford had a perfect pro-choice record. “We worked with him,” NARAL head Ilyse Hogue told me when we spoke by phone, “and he voted right every time…. His votes prove he’s changed since the ’90s.” Although, with a couple of exceptions, Ashford voted anti-choice consistently through 2011.