LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — The Republican vying to replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker spent the end of this week in Nebraska, raising funds for two House candidates running in districts where the GOP holds significant advantages in voter registrations.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy raised money Thursday for U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, who represents the largely rural 3rd Congressional District. McCarthy did the same on Friday for State Sen. Mike Flood, who is running for an open seat in eastern Nebraska’s 1st District.
McCarthy’s visits to those two districts builds relationships for the potential Speaker if Republicans retake the House in November, and it strengthens McCarthy’s ties with lawmakers he might need support from in passing, amending or defeating legislation, political observers say.
McCarthy didn’t visit the state’s most competitive congressional district, the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Rep. Don Bacon is seeking a fourth term against Democratic State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha.
McCarthy has stumped for Bacon before, including in 2020, when he attended the Douglas County Republican Party’s Elephant Remembers dinner in Omaha. This time, McCarthy focused on Nebraska’s two other congressional districts.
One reason, observers say, could be former President Donald Trump, who asked Nebraskans not to vote for Bacon during a visit in May, citing the congressman’s vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill President Joe Biden sought. Bacon has said he works for 2nd District voters, not for Trump.
“There is nothing going on in congressional races right now that doesn’t involve or factor in Donald Trump,” said Randall Adkins, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “That could be one of many factors.”
McCarthy has been reassuring some GOP lawmakers that he remains loyal to former President Donald Trump after a recording was leaked in which he shared his criticisms of Trump after rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
McCarthy risks facing a challenge from the right for the role as Speaker if Republicans take over the House in November.
Flood, a former Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature from Norfolk, made plain where he stands in a potential race for House Speaker. He said McCarthy has proven his skill in uniting House Republicans. Smith called McCarthy a good friend and said he was glad to host him.
“He heard from hardworking Nebraskans about the challenges of inflation, record-high gas prices and a border crisis,” Smith said. “I’m doing all I can to ensure Republicans retake the House majority in November.”
McCarthy told the Nebraska Examiner that he visited Nebraska, in part, to help Flood boost Republican awareness of the June 28 special election in which Flood is facing off with Democratic State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln. Neither fundraiser was open to the press.
In a written response to a question, McCarthy said it was “great to be back in Nebraska and on the campaign trail in support of Rep. Bacon, Rep. Smith, and Sen. Flood. It’s clear Nebraskans are fired up and ready to deliver a red wave this November.”
The political party in control of the presidency typically loses seats in off-year elections. Republicans need to gain a net five seats to flip the House from Democratic control. Pelosi visited Nebraska for a state party fundraiser in 2019.
“He’s thinking about 435 races,” Adkins said of McCarthy. “He’s probably here for Mike Flood, but he’s probably thinking, ‘Who do I need to build a better relationship with’?”
Bacon said McCarthy has been in Omaha “every year” to support him. He said he was “glad that (McCarthy) came to Nebraska to help Mike who has an election this month and Adrian … . We refer you back to the Leader’s statement where he explicitly stated his support for us.”
Pansing Brooks on Friday touted her endorsements from a number of Nebraskans, including State Sens. John McCollister of Omaha and Lynne Walz of Fremont. Pansing Brooks criticized Flood for accepting the support of McCarthy, whom she said is obstructing efforts to investigate the events of Jan. 6.
“In running to change Washington, I look to our local leaders for inspiration,” Pansing Brooks said. “The answers to our nation’s problems are found right here at home.”
McCollister, a centrist Republican who often crosses party lines, called McCarthy part of a far-right fringe of the GOP who should not lead. He said he prefers Pansing Brooks’ approach of building consensus, even though she is progressive.
“I’m afraid of those people, what they’ll do, if they take the House,” he said of McCarthy and some Republicans who follow him.
Former State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, a Democrat, said she considers both Flood and Pansing Brooks to be her friends. She said she backs Pansing Brooks because she feels she would better represent Lincoln, and she’d like to see a mom in the seat.
“There’s no question that a lot of key issues are really hanging in the balance right now,” Conrad said, pointing to debates over gun rights and abortion rights as two examples.
Asked about Flood’s local endorsements, his campaign sent a list that includes Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman, U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, Bacon and Smith and Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers of Lincoln.
McCarthy told KFAB’s Ian Swanson on Friday that Congress needs Flood to help fight federal spending that he said is making inflation worse. He said Flood would support projects similar to the former Keystone XL pipeline project to address U.S. fuel costs.
McCarthy didn’t disagree when Swanson said Smith is in a position, because of his seniority, to compete for chairmanship of the House’s powerful, tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Smith faces Democrat David Else in November.
“I came to Nebraska to talk and listen to a lot of constituents here, but mainly to make sure they make the right decision…,” McCarthy told KFAB. “What you’re going to find from Republicans is we’re going to hold this administration accountable.”
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