Kara Eastman, a progressive backed by high-profile Democrats including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, captured victory Tuesday in a Nebraska Democratic congressional primary, boosting the hopes of liberal activists.
The win by Eastman – who unsuccessfully sought the seat two years ago -- in the state's 2nd congressional district sets up a highly anticipated 2018 general election rematch with Republicans and serves as a rebound for progressive candidates in 2020 races.
Eastman trounced her centrist primary opponent, Ann Ashford, securing more than 60 percent of the vote as she moves forward to November’s election. It was a significant increase from her first win in 2018 primary when she narrowly upset the moderate Rep. Brad Ashford by less than 1,500 votes. She went on to lose to the current incumbent GOP Rep. Don Bacon.
“We are building a COALITION,” Eastman tweeted Tuesday. “If you are going to defeat the regressive tide of Trumpism in our state, we do it with kindness and inclusion and empathy and honesty. We welcome ALL Democrats to our movement! We welcome Independents and disgruntled Republicans too. Let's do this.”
Her victory will be seen as a rallying cry for progressives who have so far had mixed results in House primaries from the momentum of their strong showing in 2018. Highly touted candidates like Texas’ Jessica Cisneros and Ohio’s Morgan Harper were beaten by longtime Washington incumbents. But Illinois’ Marie Newman and California’s Georgette Gomez -- both candidates backed by Justice Democrats, a campaign PAC started by Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign workers -- were able to secure victory and advance to their general elections.
However, Eastman faces a difficult path towards defeating current incumbent Don Bacon, who easily took his primary with 90 percent of the vote. Both Cook Political Report and Politico currently rate the election as "Lean Republican" and it’s a district where President Trump won by 2.2 percent in 2016. Bacon has voted in line with the president more than 90 percent of the time since being elected to congress back in 2016.
President Trump this week tweeted support for Bacon in the primary.
“@DonJBacon is doing a tremendous job for Nebraska! He served our Country as an Air Force General, and now he serves our Vets, Farmers, and Small Businesses. Strongly supports the Second Amendment. Don has my Complete & Total Endorsement! #NE02” he said.
After the results were in Tuesday, the candidates wasted no time in sparring with each other.
“Kara Eastman's extremist agenda will skyrocket our taxes to pay for a government takeover of healthcare and 'free' college for everyone. I voted to cut taxes for hard-working Nebraska families and #smallbiz in #NE02. Kara's ideas are #ALittleOutThere,” Bacon tweeted Tuesday night.
Eastman shot back: “Friends. This is a preview of what this election will entail. :) Don Bacon will try to SCARE you. Throughout history, this has been a COMMON tactic but if we all see it for WHAT IT IS, it doesn't work. We wish you a happy election Congressman. You'll be going home soon. :)”
Eastman is a strong candidate to flip the seat. She lost by only 5,000 votes in their original matchup in 2018 (2 percent). Despite her progressive stances, which include supporting a path to Medicare for all and no government restrictions on access to abortion. She’s raised almost $850,000 so far during this cycle.
The district is crucial for Republicans to win if they have any hope of retaking the House majority. The GOP currently holds 196 seats in the House and needs to pick up at least 18 to retake a majority.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.