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Fortenberry Town Hall

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry speaks at a town hall meeting on Monday, July 31, 2017, at Schoo Middle School. 

While seven-term Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln will sail through the May 15 primary election without opposition in the 1st District, Nebraska Democrats will choose between their 2014 nominee, Dennis Crawford, and newcomer Jessica McClure.

Meanwhile, former Lancaster County Commissioner Steve Svoboda, a Democrat, will be seeking write-in votes.

To the Democratic primary nominee goes a daunting November challenge: Fortenberry was re-elected in 2016 by a margin of more than 100,000 votes, and Democrats haven't won the district in more than half a century, not since Clair Callan was elected to a single term in 1964.  

Add to that the fact Fortenberry had about $1.9 million in campaign cash on hand as of March 31, according to his latest report with the Federal Election Commission.

The Democratic nominee will battle the odds with a hope that the so-called anti-incumbent Blue Wave that might be building nationally for Democratic congressional candidates will actually surface this year and wash across Nebraska's Republican border, splashing through the red 1st District.

While Fortenberry is the only candidate in the field with substantial name identification, Crawford has been on the ballot before and has built some name familiarity.

Here's the final result of that contest four years ago: Fortenberry, 123,219; Crawford, 55,838.

But this time it's different, the Lincoln attorney suggests. 

"Voters feel left out and ignored," Crawford said. "Democrats are winning where no one expects that to happen. (Donald) Trump is a big issue and people are very tuned in. Look for a huge Democratic wave."

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Dennis Crawford

Crawford

Crawford says his top priority would be to "fix the health care system" and he supports legislation that would allow any individual or business to select Medicare or Medicaid as their health care insurance provider.

And he's targeting gun law reform, including a ban on assault weapons, as a legislative priority.

Crawford said he would oppose "any tax increase on any family making less than $200,000 per year."

And, he said, he stands opposed to any further U.S. military intervention in Syria or Iraq.

Crawford supports an earned pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers, as well as a path to citizenship for DACA youths, the young immigrants who were brought to this country by their parents or other adults when they illegally crossed the U.S. border. 

McClure, who recently resigned as a regulatory compliance specialist to concentrate on her campaign, says she would center on "bringing affordable, accessible health care to Nebraska by advocating for universal coverage and providing initiatives to help bring direct primary care facilities to underserved areas."

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Jessica McClure

McClure

Also high on her list is a commitment to public schools and to efforts to lower the cost of higher education, support for equal rights for LGBT people and "putting Nebraska agriculture ahead of party politics."

"I think partisan politics is hurting the legislative process," McClure said. "We cannot pass quality policies without working together."

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McClure said she would support "a well-planned grant program to bring high-speed internet infrastructure" to unserved or underserved areas of Nebraska and she'd act to protect the legal presence that has been granted to DACA youths.

Svoboda, a former steelworker at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., said he would focus on Medicare and Medicaid reform, efforts to lower drug prices, expansion of medical research and public-private partnerships for Veterans Administration care.

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Steve Svoboda

Steve Svoboda, 2018 primary candidate for 1st District Congressional race

If elected, Svoboda said, he'd support efforts to improve markets for Nebraska farmers.

While all the primary election attention is on the Democratic side, Fortenberry will sail unopposed into the general election spotlight in November.

Meanwhile, the congressman said, his policy priorities will remain focused on national, economic and family security.

"I will continue leading bipartisan initiatives to stop escalating health care costs, to properly steward our natural resources and do my part to heal social fragmentation," the congressman said.

"I belong to the political party that best fits my philosophical beliefs," Fortenberry said, "but I will act based upon the needs of America, Nebraska's deep values and the guidance of my conscience."

Fortenberry was a member of the Lincoln City Council before his election to the House in 2004.

Candidates for U.S. House of Representatives

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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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