Two Democratic candidates are taking aim at Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry with a focus on health care policy, hoping that a Democratic wave in November might splash into Nebraska and carry Democrats to their first victory in the 1st Congressional District in 54 years.

Dennis Crawford of Lincoln, who was the Democratic nominee for the House seat in 2014, filed with the secretary of state Wednesday.

Jessica McClure of Lincoln, who has an active campaign presence on social media, plans to file Friday.  

Both candidates already have been out on the road in the eastern Nebraska district, which has been represented by Fortenberry since 2005.

And both Democrats immediately point to health care when asked to define the chief issues.

Crawford, an attorney, said Fortenberry needs to be held accountable for his votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and "take away coverage for millions of Americans."

In contrast, Crawford said, he would champion a proposal to provide Americans with the option of choosing Medicare as their insurance provider while protecting the Medicaid program.

Crawford criticized Fortenberry's vote in support of the recently-enacted Republican tax reform plan which, he said, provides huge and permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while instituting smaller and temporary tax reductions for everyone else.

Fortenberry and his party have failed to protect the DACA immigrant youths who are in danger of losing their legal presence in the United States, Crawford said, and the Republican Congress has not yet reauthorized the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage for 9 million children. 

All of that "tells me they are focused on their donors, the top 1 percent, and the special interests," Crawford said.

Fortenberry, he said, has been "a rubber stamp for (President Donald) Trump" and has been unwilling to "speak out against Trump's bad behavior."

Looking ahead at what appears to be an uphill climb for a Democrat in Nebraska, Crawford said: "In a wave election, anything is possible. No incumbent is safe."

McClure, who describes herself as a working mom, said her daughter has a pre-existing health condition and "I really took it personally" when Fortenberry voted to scrap the Affordable Care Act and its health care coverage protections.

"This isn't going to go away,"  she said.

In addition to health care, McClure said she would focus on education issues, supporting public schools and "making education more affordable" for students who are now burdened by college loans.

Legislation that addresses jobs and wages is also high on her list.

On her campaign website, McClure identifies equal rights, renewable energy and "fact and science-based policy" as among her priorities.

"President Trump is not for me," McClure said. "A lot of women don't like him."

McClure said people appear to like Fortenberry, "but they should concentrate on his voting record."

"Our Nebraska U.S. congressmen have been attacking regulatory protections enacted to keep my family healthy and safe, and I'm going to fight back," she said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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