POLITICS

Republican Don Bacon Beats Progressive Kara Eastman In Heated Nebraska House Race

Republicans staved off one of progressives' best chances at electing a "Medicare for All" candidate in a swing district. But it wasn't all bad for Democrats.
Rep. Don Bacon has now been in two close races against Kara Eastman and prevailed.
Rep. Don Bacon has now been in two close races against Kara Eastman and prevailed.

For the second time in two years, Republican Rep. Don Bacon staved off a challenge from Democrat Kara Eastman, a progressive populist candidate who hoped to prove that left-leaning ideas could win in Nebraska’s likeliest-to-swing district.

A retired Air Force officer and two-term congressman, Bacon, 57, claimed victory in Nebraska’s 2nd District, which encompasses Omaha and some of its surrounding suburbs. It was a competitive race, with Eastman and Bacon neck and neck in the polls leading up to Election Day.

But it wasn’t all bad news for Democrats. Nebraska awards a portion of its electoral votes based on the winner in each congressional district — and Joe Biden won Nebraska’s 2nd District despite Eastman losing.

That said, Eastman’s loss is a major blow to a progressive wing that was hoping to repudiate Democratic Party leaders who credited their 2018 gains in the House to centrist candidates, and who actively snubbed candidates like Eastman in the midterms.

Bacon narrowly won his seat in 2016, ousting Democratic incumbent Brad Ashford. Ashford ran again in 2018, but lost the primary to Eastman, a former social worker and nonprofit executive who overcame Democratic establishment opposition to clinch the nomination and ran a competitive race without the help of her party. Bacon held on to the seat by less than 2 percentage points. 

Two years later, Bacon again benefited from a fissure within the Democratic Party. Ashford, whose wife lost to Eastman in the Democratic primary in 2020, endorsed Bacon, the Republican, over Eastman. Bacon’s lead is larger in 2020.

Ashford buoyed Bacon’s attempt to run on a supposed record of “bipartisanship.” Bacon’s actual record doesn’t reflect that label; he’s voted in line with President Donald Trump 92% of the time.

In 2014, after a military career of more than 20 years, Bacon retired from the Air Force, before getting involved in politics. He has a firmly conservative record in Congress. He opposes abortion rights, voted against universal background checks for firearm sales, and voted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with a proposal that made massive cuts to Medicaid and could have resulted in 20 million fewer Americans being insured.

This time, Eastman had the full weight of her party behind her. The official campaign arm of the Democratic Party invested more than $3 million in the 2nd District, and she received national attention with endorsements from former President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, as well as from progressive leaders like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). 

As HuffPost’s Alex Kaufman reported, four left-leaning groups ― Justice Democrats, MoveOn, Sunrise Movement and the Working Families Party ― also invested in the race.

But Eastman wasn’t able to fully sell her progressive agenda as a fierce advocate for single-payer health care, which would move all Americans on to a publicly funded health insurance program, and for a Green New Deal, the ambitious proposal to get the United States to net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

In the end, Republicans kept Nebraska all red.