Anti-Tax, Pro-Lifer Takes Nebraska Primary

One of the biggest upsets in Republican U.S. House primaries this year occurred May 11 in Nebraska’s Lincoln-based 1st District.

Most pundits pegged Curt Bromm as the favorite among three major candidates. The speaker of the state’s unicameral legislature, Bromm was endorsed by the retiring incumbent, moderate Rep. Doug Bereuter.

But a funny thing happened to Bromm on his way to Congress: Conservative former Lincoln City Councilman Jeff Fortenberry defeated him in the primary, 39% to 33%. Conservative former Cattlemen’s Association Vice President Greg Ruehle took another 21%.

Two years ago, Bromm ruptured an already-cold relationship with conservatives by casting the deciding vote to override Republican Gov. Mike Johanns’s veto of sales and income tax increases. While characterizing himself as pro-life, Bromm supported legislation to allow transplant research using tissue taken from aborted babies–a measure strongly opposed by state pro-life groups.

The Club for Growth launched a $300,000-plus TV and radio campaign underscoring Bromm’s vote for the tax increases. Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform also denounced Bromm.

“Yes, the tax vote and [Bromm’s position] on fetal tissue research played big roles in this race,” State Republican Chairman David Kramer (who was neutral in the primary) told me. “The tax issue, in fact, was huge in this race.” Because the Club for Growth endorsed Ruehle while going after Bromm, Kramer said, Fortenberry may have benefited from the brawl between the other two contenders.

That a conservative was able to ride the anti-tax and pro-life issues to victory over an opponent blessed by the party establishment is particularly significant in Lincoln. In contrast to the conservative Omaha-based 2nd District represented by conservative Republican Rep. Lee Terry, Lincoln, which is home to the University of Nebraska, is considered friendly turf to moderate Republicans, as exemplified by Bereuter, who had a long record of animosity toward conservatives.

Fortenberry faces a strong Democratic contender this fall in State Sen. Matt Conneally. “He is sure to attack Jeff as an extremist,” said Kramer. “But remember–Jeff won the seven largest counties in the primary. When people meet and listen to him, they will find there is great breadth and depth.”