In the Second District of Nebraska, a state that would be crossed by the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, an influx of cash from the national parties is adding fuel to the fire of a competitive House race.
Eight-term incumbent Rep. Lee Terry (R) is facing one of the biggest challenges of his career in State Sen. Brad Ashford. Terry is a longtime proponent of Keystone, which would carry oil from the tar sands in Alberta to the Gulf Coast. In 2011, he sponsored a bill to accelerate approval of the pipeline by bypassing the State Department. More recently, he tried to condition a debt ceiling compromise on the project’s approval. The State Department announced in April that it would delay a decision until after the November elections.
His views on this are evident on his campaign’s balance sheets. Chairman of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, Terry has been a longtime recipient of contributions from ConocoPhillips, one of the oil companies that would use the pipeline if it’s built. ConocoPhillips has given him $12,000 since the 1998 cycle, the year he was first elected to the House. Terry is also the top recipient of funds from HDR Inc, the Omaha-based company that conducted an environmental impact assessment of the pipeline for the state. HDR Inc.’s involvement became controversial when it emerged that it had previously received a $1.2 billion contract from TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline. Terry received $10,000 from HDR this cycle, and over $38,000 throughout his career.
Yet none of the major environmental outside spending groups, like the League of Conservation Voters or the Sierra Club, have invested much in this race. Instead, the contest has become a tug-and-pull between the two parties, an indication of the politically charged nature of the Keystone XL pipeline. Even in Nebraska, residents have been torn between the prospect of gaining thousands of new jobs from the massive construction project and the possibility of leaks spilling into the state’s massive Ogallala aquifer.
Though Terry has out-raised his opponent by more than five to one, with $1.8 million in the bank against Ashford’s $320,000 as of June 30, recent surveys suggest that the race is too close for comfort. An August DCCC poll found Ashford leading Terry by a one percent lead.
Both parties are on the warpath to win over Omaha. The National Republican Congressional Committee has bought up $730,000 in TV ads in Omaha to back Terry, according to Roll Call. On the other end, Ashford is benefiting from the Democratic Congressional Committee‘s “highly competitive” Red to Blue program. The DCCC has already spent about $175,000, more than half of Ashford’s war chest, on TV ads criticizing Terry for defending his congressional salary.
Both candidates are also being boosted by their colleagues. Terry is receiving more money from leadership PACs than from any other industry. He has overall received close to $158,000 from his fellow Republicans’ campaign committees or leadership PACs, including from party leaders like former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), his successor Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House whip. Meanwhile, Ashford has received $26,000 from his colleagues in the House, including major donations from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
CRP Researcher Andrew Mayersohn contributed to this report.
Lalita Clozel is the Center’s summer 2014 reporting intern. She is originally from France and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013, with a degree in economics and philosophy.
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