Kara Eastman is back on the trail.

Last year, she and her campaign workers knocked on an estimated 200,000 doors in her bid for metropolitan Omaha's 2nd District House seat and she's promising another intensive, grassroots-driven campaign with a continued emphasis on policy reform.

"Health care, by far" is the primary concern that people expressed when she was last standing at their doorstep, Eastman said last week.

"It's a big one."

And so Eastman is off and running again with an agenda that's been described as progressive, a word that Republicans have turned into a pejorative weapon to be used against her in today's tribal politics. 

Universal health care, bold action on climate change, an increased minimum wage, stronger gun control, action to counter "undemocratic procedures like gerrymandering and voter suppression" are all on Eastman's list.

Eastman had recently returned from a trip to El Paso, Texas, and a visit to the southern border when she sat down for an interview at The Mill in Lincoln's Haymarket.

What she saw and what she learned there will be shared at a coming event in South Omaha, which is home to thousands of Latino immigrants, both legal and undocumented.

It's one of the distinctive portions of the 2nd District, along with north Omaha and its large African American population; both are particularly vital for Democratic congressional candidates as they struggle to match or overcome a dependable surge of Republican votes that will flow in from Sarpy County precincts.

And both may be far more motivated to vote in a presidential election year. 

Eastman is planning a roundtable discussion to listen to concerns from both neighborhoods.  

Part of her task, Eastman said, is to "reach out to people who do not always vote."

Eastman visited immigrant shelters on both sides of the border, watched immigration court hearings and talked with people in El Paso, returning home shortly before the racially driven mass shooting that killed 22 people at a Walmart filled with Latino families in early August.

In addition to the challenge of containing gun violence, Eastman said, "it is clear our immigration system is broken and needs to be reformed."

In the 2018 Democratic primary election, Eastman upset former Rep. Brad Ashford, but then lost to Republican Rep. Don Bacon by 4,945 votes as he won reelection to a second term.

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Now, Eastman faces Ann Ashford, who is running on her own merits in the Democratic primary race with her own priorities and views and not in any way as a surrogate for her husband.

There will be others in the race, including newcomers such as Morgann Freeman, but Eastman and Ashford are the established names at the beginning of what is now a nine-month chase to the May primary election.

Freeman, a Black Lives Matter activist, member of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and freelance communications consultant, already has announced that she intends to seek the Democratic nomination.  

During an earlier interview, Ashford suggested that Eastman might be "a person who may be tied too far to the left for our district" and that her own more measured views give her a greater opportunity to unseat Bacon. 

Ashford said she would consider a health care public option tied to the Affordable Care Act and climate change action that's more moderate than the so-called Green New Deal. 

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Eastman, in turn, says Ashford is "against bold policies on issues like climate change and Medicare for All (and) she was a Republican until 2016."

"I'm a lifelong Democrat," Eastman says.

"But I have no interest in attacking her," she said.

"Her niece and my daughter are very close friends."

Eastman, who has more than 20 years of experience leading nonprofit organizations and who started Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance, is hoping voters will "get to know me better" this time. She's a former member of the board of governors of Metropolitan Community College.

"Republican outside groups invested so much time attacking me that it somewhat clouded people's views," she said.

"I want to raise the minimum wage, support health care, support child care, address climate change, improve lives," Eastman said.

"Is that radical? I would argue it's more moral.

"I can't imagine doing this if I didn't think this is our moment in America to change history."

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

On Twitter @LJSDon.


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