WASHINGTON — While the fireworks in this fall's congressional campaigns have been limited to the higher-profile contests in the Omaha area and western Iowa, Nebraskans in the 1st and 3rd Districts still have decisions to make.
Those two congressional districts feature Republican incumbents accustomed to wide margins of victory, sitting lawmakers whose campaigns enjoy massive financial advantages over their challengers.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry felt comfortable enough to take a quick trip to Ohio to stump for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He is running in eastern Nebraska's 1st Congressional District against Lincoln attorney Korey Reiman, a Democrat.
Fortenberry was first elected to the House in 2004. He has focused on international subjects and also has worked on farm and rural issues with a seat on the House Agriculture Committee.
By the numbers in 2011, he was the most independent member of Nebraska's all-GOP House delegation, although he still sided with his fellow Republicans 86 percent of the time on significant votes, according to Congressional Quarterly.
Reiman noted, however, Fortenberry's votes for House Republican budgets that Reiman called extreme.
It's Reiman's first run for office, and he has a fraction of Fortenberry's campaign war chest. Reiman had $2,758 in cash on hand at the end of September, compared with Fortenberry's $817,000. Still, Reiman sees his novice status as a selling point.
“I'm not a politician,” he said. “I'm not beholden to my party.”
Fortenberry did take Grover Norquist's no-tax-increase pledge, but he has since thrown it off, calling such pledges too constraining for effective policymaking. He said issues such as the looming “fiscal cliff” can be tackled only with broad, comprehensive solutions.
“It's going to take bold leadership, creative, constructive solutions and a willingness to act that gets us beyond the narrow political lanes that are currently in place,” Fortenberry said.
In Nebraska's 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Republican Rep. Adrian Smith faces farmer Mark Sullivan, 61, a Democrat with a 950-head feedlot near Doniphan, Neb.
Sullivan, who also farms about 500 acres, was working the campaign trail this past week. His latest campaign finance report was not yet available, but he estimated that he had raised something in the low five-figures. That compares with the $754,000 in cash on hand that Smith reported as of the end of September.
Sullivan, who has stressed his local roots and his service in the National Guard, said the biggest obstacle as a first-time candidate is building name recognition. He said he got fed up with Washington dysfunction in the spring.
“I was so disappointed and discouraged with the gridlock, extreme partisanship, the poisonous atmosphere that is in Congress and especially also in the national news media,” he said.
Sullivan checked at midday March 1 and saw that no one had filed to run against Smith, so he threw his hat in the ring. His main goal is returning bipartisan compromise to Washington.
He said he wants to find fair ways to cut spending and could see allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, but only for the wealthy. He said protecting Social Security and Medicare are top priorities, and doing so might require some sort of payroll tax increase.
Smith stresses his own ties to Gering, where he still lives, and his conservative bona fides. Congressional Quarterly showed him voting with the GOP in 2011 on major votes 96 percent of the time.
His campaign touts his support for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and efforts to cut spending. The member of the tax-policy-setting Ways and Means Committee also has focused on his opposition to the new health care law and his work on agricultural trade.
“Our nation is at a pivotal moment in its history,” he said in a statement. “We need strong conservative leadership representing us to make the difficult decisions so we can get back on track.”
Contact the writer: