Nebraskans are sending Reps. Adrian Smith and Jeff Fortenberry back to Washington.
Both Republican incumbents won their races Tuesday night, rebuffing challengers who faced significant disadvantages in fundraising and name recognition.
Fortenberry defeated Democrat Jessica McClure to secure an eighth term representing the 1st District that stretches across much of eastern Nebraska. It covers the city of Lincoln and parts of Sarpy County that include Bellevue and Offutt Air Force Base.
The Lincoln lawmaker touted his work on national security, from helping secure a new runway at Offutt to supporting pay raises for those in uniform. He also highlighted his bipartisan proposal aimed at protecting wildlife ecosystems and Republican economic policies such as tax cuts and regulation rollbacks.
McClure argued that Fortenberry has failed to tackle major issues such as health care and student loan debt during his time in Congress.
In the closing stages of the campaign, Fortenberry’s team garnered local and national attention related to a vandalized campaign sign that showed the congressman with googly eyes and changed the “o” in his name to an “a.” The tagline on the bottom was adjusted to reference “strong odor.”
A University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor “liked” a photo of the sign on Facebook, which resulted in Fortenberry’s chief of staff Reyn Archer contacting his superiors and calling him to complain.
The professor said he felt threatened by those moves, while Archer said he was just trying to have a dialog.
Smith has represented the state’s sprawling and largely rural 3rd District since 2007. He defeated Democrat Paul Theobald, who ran a campaign that tilted strongly to the left in spite of the deep-red leanings of the district.
Theobald’s platform included a call for a Medicare-for-all approach to health care, for example. Theobald said Smith had failed to counter President Donald Trump’s excesses and accomplished little to improve incomes in the district or stop the loss of population in many counties.
Smith focused on Republican actions to roll back regulations and cut taxes, moves he said have the district poised to grow. On health care, he supported repealing the Affordable Care Act and rejected Theobald’s health care plans as too expensive.
Theobald complained that Smith refused to debate him despite saying multiple times that he would.
Smith spokesman Chris Peterson told The World-Herald at one point that Theobald’s public statements had shown he was more interested in political games than discussing the issues. But Peterson did not specify what statements he was referencing.