Races of the Week:Terry vs. Thompson

Six years ago, Lee Terry came to Congress with the biggest percentage of the vote (66%) of any Republican member of the House GOP’s “Class of ’98.” In his two subsequent trips to the ballot box, Terry was re-elected with similar handsome margins in Nebraska’s Omaha-based 2nd District. In most places, Democrats would get the message and realize that a strong challenge to Terry (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 83%) is a waste of time and money.

But no, they don’t see it this way in Nebraska and, as always, the 42-year-old Terry faces a well-known liberal Democratic opponent fueled by donations from the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education, the National Education Association, and many other “usual suspects” on the Left. This year, the candidate is Nancy Thompson, a state senator who served as deputy chief of staff to Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson when he was two-term governor of the Cornhusker State.

“And I guess that’s the price you pay when you’re a stand-up person,” said Terry dryly, noting that Thompson has so far raised more money, “but that’s what I am.” Indeed, the former Omaha City Council president wears his pro-life stand like an Olympic Gold Medal, believing in only one exception, the life of the mother, and calling for outlawing abortion completely. He welcomes the support of the National Rifle Association (“A gun doesn’t make you inherently evil”) and is one of six House members in a caucus set up to explore the eventual privatization of Medicare.

But lately Terry has been under fire from Thompson mostly for his votes for the Bush tax cuts and his outspoken defense of the President for deposing Saddam Hussein and rebuilding Iraq. As Terry notes, “My opponent–who is obviously getting her lines from the Democratic National Committee playbook–says the tax cuts are building for the rich. And this is at a time when wage-earners across the board are having their savings go up 10% after taxes. How she cannot connect the dots between the tax cuts and greater savings and prosperity is beyond me!”

On Iraq, Thompson takes the Kerry line of increasing criticism of the U.S. presence in Baghdad, as violence rises and doubts about “Operation Iraqi Freedom” grow among the American public. Undaunted, Rep. Terry vociferously backs the President, hailing the U.S. action in Iraq as “the boldest international strategy I have ever seen–bolder than Ronald Reagan’s, saying ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!'” Noting that public schools are opening, human rights are established, and Iraq is proceeding on schedule toward a stable democracy, the Nebraskan said, “Sure, there are going to be some problems in a transition like this and there will be some hurt. But so far, all the cards are falling in our favor and if Iraq becomes a lasting democracy, that will go a long way toward finally achieving peace in the Middle East.”

No one ever accused Lee Terry of being shy, a fair-weather friend, or a fence straddler. The reason he inevitably faces well-funded opposition is the same reason conservatives should rally to his side: he’s a stand-up person.