A national Republican group criticized Nebraska Democrat Gladys Harrison this week, suggesting she’s unqualified to run for Congress because of a 1986 shoplifting conviction and a handful of driving tickets.

Not so fast, Harrison said Friday.

“Having the same experiences as most everyday Americans, how come I can’t go to Washington and determine what would be best for this country?” she said. “I think I would be the best person for that.”

Harrison, the owner of Big Mama’s Kitchen, formed an exploratory committee this week to look at running for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. She would face fellow Democrats Kara Eastman and Ann Ashford in the primary, and the winner would go up against Republican Rep. Don Bacon.

The National Republican Campaign Committee — a group tasked with getting Republicans elected to the House — quickly fired off a statement calling Harrison the “plan C” candidate of their Democratic counterparts, the DCCC.

Those two groups can contribute substantial amounts of money and outside support in a House race, potentially enough to decide a close election.

The Republican group also noted the shoplifting, a failure to appear in court conviction in 2005 associated with a traffic violation, and a handful of other driving-related violations in the 1980s through 2000s. It called Harrison “a novice candidate with a criminal record.”

A public records search also shows that Harrison declared bankruptcy in 1997 and has been sent to collections several times, mostly for medical bills.

Harrison said the shoplifting conviction happened when she was 18. She was a cashier at Shopko and she did her friend a favor by not ringing up a microwave she wanted.

But, Harrison said, she immediately felt guilty and turned herself in. She spent the weekend in jail and was sentenced to probation.

“I knew what I did was wrong,” she said.

On the failure to appear, she said she had bought a new car and couldn’t afford to get plates for it.

She said her experience struggling to pay bills makes her interested in issues such as affordable health insurance for everyone, pushing for living wages and making sure tax policy helps the lower and middle classes.

On the question of the DCCC, she said that national group did not recruit her though she has spoken with its representatives.

The DCCC, when asked whether it planned to back a candidate in the primary, did not answer directly.

“We’re confident that Democrats will have a strong nominee in the 2nd District who will hold Congressman Bacon accountable for his record,” said spokesman Mike Gwin. “The DCCC looks forward to working with local Democrats to flip this seat next November.”

Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb said it more bluntly: “The DCCC has not chosen a candidate.”

She noted that the group has met with Ashford and Eastman, and that Kleeb has met with all three.

Kleeb called the NRCC’s statement a “cheap political attack.”

“Gladys is a candidate that really represents a lot of working class Nebraskans,” Kleeb said. “With that comes not only real-life struggles but real success. Here she is, a single mom who went through a lot of hard times in life and came out of it a very positive way.”

Reporter - Politics

Roseann covers politics for The World-Herald. Before she came to The World-Herald in 2011, she covered politics for the Springfield, Mo., News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter @roseannmoring. Phone: 402-444-1084.

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