Between missteps by U.S. Rep. Lee Terry's campaign and the increased visibility of his Democratic opponent, the race for Nebraska's 2nd District House seat has tightened, according to a World-Herald poll last week.
But going into the final days of the campaign, Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing hasn't been able to attract much outside financial help from Washington.
That leaves Terry, the seven-term Republican incumbent, where he's been since the beginning: the frontrunner.
It's not that Ewing can't win. It's that he has to do it on his own.
One Democratic Party group, House Majority PAC, did announce a $75,000 television advertising buy for Ewing this week.
But that amount barely closes the fundraising gap — Terry has collected nearly $2 million this campaign, compared with less than $500,000 for Ewing. It's also much less than the hundreds of thousands of dollars outside groups have poured into the Omaha media market for the U.S. Senate race.
And it's unlikely that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will ride to Ewing's rescue as it tried for Jim Esch in 2008, though the Terry campaign has braced for the possibility.
“This is more sedate than '08 because of the lack of outside independent expenditures,” said David Boomer, Terry's campaign manager.
Terry started airing ads in August, giving him a two-month head start on defining Ewing. Ewing's television spots began in early October, just after election officials mailed out the first early ballots.
“Once that frame sort of gets stuck in the public consciousness, it can be very difficult to dislodge,” said Damien Smith Pfister, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
That's compounded by the fact that Terry began the race much better known than Ewing.
Plus, Ewing and the House Majority PAC's ads are competing with far more political messaging now than Terry's ads faced in early August.
That can dilute Ewing's message, Pfister said, but it doesn't mean he is doomed.
“There can always be a reframing,” he said. “And you never know how the campaign will develop, whether or not there will be a last-minute gaffe.”
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