WASHINGTON — The Omaha-Council Bluffs area is shaping up as a key battleground in the fight over whether Republicans retain control of the House next year.
The National Republican Congressional Committee announced Monday that it had added nine names to its Patriots Program, aimed at helping vulnerable GOP incumbents, bringing the number on the list to 20.
Two of the additions are veteran congressmen familiar to people in the metropolitan area — Reps. Lee Terry and Tom Latham.
Terry represents Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses Douglas County and western Sarpy County. Latham represents Iowa's 3rd Congressional District, which covers the southwest quadrant of Iowa, including Council Bluffs.
National Democrats have indicated that they will make Terry a priority target in this cycle after his 2012 margin of victory was about 2 percentage points. Pete Festersen, a Democrat, says he is mulling a bid against Terry. The Omaha City Council member would be a strong contender and could probably clear the field for the Democratic nomination.
Another Omaha Democrat, Larry Bradley, has also said he is considering a run for the seat.
On the other side of the river, former State Sen. Staci Appel has decided to throw her hat into the ring against Latham and has received an early indication of support from EMILY's List, a group backs female candidates who favor abortion rights. Although Latham notched a solid victory over a fellow incumbent last fall — Democrat Leonard Boswell — President Barack Obama carried the district over Mitt Romney 51 percent to 47 percent.
A Latham spokesman declined to comment. A Terry spokesman referred questions to the committee.
In a release NRCC chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., praised those on the Patriots list.
“I look forward to working with them as they run aggressive and organized campaigns focused on helping middle-class families,” he said.
Terry and Latham have been on the list at different times in the past.
The Patriot Program is a way for national Republicans to help incumbents they want to protect. Assistance varies from district to district and even from week to week.
Sometimes it includes having a member of the House leadership appear at a fundraising event, conducting research that provides fodder for campaign spots or lining up volunteers to serve as boots on the ground.
Randall Adkins, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said landing on the list is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it can make raising money easier.
“Those who contribute to campaigns at the national level want their contributions to make a difference,” Adkins said. “Thus, they prefer not to give it to a 'safe' incumbent.”
On the other hand, it could encourage a strong challenger to jump into the race, he said.
Specifically on Terry's race, Adkins said the district has become much more competitive since Terry was first elected in 1998.
“The Democrats overall are doing a better job of fielding quality candidates and running effective campaigns,” he said. “Their success hasn't translated into a win at the congressional level yet, and I think the Republicans at the national level are simply doing what they can to make sure that doesn't happen any time soon.”