If you own a car in Douglas County, you might know John Ewing's name from the annual reminder the Treasurer's Office sends for license plate fees.
If you watch TV in Nebraska's Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District, you might know Ewing from advertisements accusing him of backing policies that would add to the national debt.
The Democratic candidate for the office wants you to see him as a county treasurer who cut the budget and as a former police officer who served on dozens of community boards.
His goal over the next seven weeks is to sell himself as such to 2nd District voters. For that, he's reserved about $215,000 of TV airtime. But his ads are set to begin in early October, giving Republican candidate Lee Terry a two-month television head start.
Terry, a seven-term incumbent, is spending $400,000 on TV commercials, beginning with two ads that seek to define Ewing as a pro-spending, liberal Democrat. The Terry camp is trying to define his challenger before he can define himself.
The Terry campaign is treating Ewing as a threat even though he has raised less than all but one of Terry's recent challengers. Ewing's July 1 tally was $300,000 raised and $90,000 cash on hand.
The only recent Terry opponent who had raised less by this point, Jim Esch, came within 10 percentage points of the congressman in 2006. Two years later, he came within 4.
Terry's most recent competitor, then-State Sen. Tom White, had raised $620,000 and had $530,000 on hand. Terry beat White by 20 points.
Even so, Terry's campaign manager, David Boomer, said Nebraskans know the 2nd District remains a swing district, even if national pundits say it isn't. That's why Terry's largest donors are local — the employees and the political action committees of companies such as Hawkins Construction Co., Union Pacific Railroad and Berkshire Hathaway, which owns The World-Herald.
And that's why the Terry camp is raising funds, running ads and courting voters aggressively.
“We're running as if we're 5 points behind,” Boomer said.
On the other side, Ewing campaign manager Rebekah Caruthers said his fundraising has picked up since June 30. She expects to be able to pay for the ad time the campaign has reserved.
“It ebbs and flows,” she said. “We're still getting people donating to the campaign.”
Ewing's campaign says he didn't start fundraising until about a week before the end of the last quarter. But he said he expects a stronger showing for the next report, due Oct. 15.
“We believe we have a message that resonates with the people,” he said.
Voters can expect some ads introducing Ewing to them, then others focused on the economy and on protecting Medicare and Social Security, Caruthers said.
“They should be looking for a positive message on the issues from John,” Caruthers said.
Terry is on pace to raise the $2 million he has gathered for previous elections, Boomer said. In June, Terry reported $1.3 million raised and $480,000 on hand.
Both campaigns also using the less-expensive avenues of targeted mailings, phone calls and knocking on doors.
Nationally, though, political analysts such as Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia still consider Nebraska's 2nd District a safe Republican seat, a distinction that can cause fundraising problems for both sides.
Donors ask Ewing whether he has a shot, but they ask Terry why their donations are needed.
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