Kara Eastman: The Far-Left Loses a Biden Seat
The only Justice Democrats-backed candidate to run in a swing district ran behind Joe Biden by double digits in 2020.
District: Nebraska’s 2nd (NE-2)
Incumbent: Rep. Don Bacon (R)
Partisan Lean (PVI): R+1
Nebraska’s second Congressional district is a swing district with a slight right tilt that includes the city of Omaha and a more rural military base. The seat has been held by GOP Rep. Don Bacon since 2016. Donald Trump won the district (which also has its own slate of national electors) by three points that year.
In 2018, a social worker named Kara Eastman ran what POLITICO described as “a Brooklyn-style campaign” in NE-02, campaigning on a left-wing policy agenda (including “Medicare for All” and tuition-free public college) in hopes of turning out the progressive base. That strategy enabled Eastman to knock off her more moderate, DCCC-backed opponent in the Democratic primary but failed in the general election, where she lost to Bacon by two points despite Democrats’ nine-point national advantage in that year’s “blue wave.”
Eastman ran it back in 2020, beating her former primary opponent’s wife in the Democratic Primary to get a rematch with Rep. Bacon. While the DCCC had waited to support Eastman until late in the 2018 cycle, the House Democrats’ premier campaign arm wasted no time getting behind her in 2020, pouring more than $3 million into her election effort alongside substantial investments from far-left groups such as Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement. Eastman doubled down on left-wing policy stances while doing little to distance herself from aspects of the Democrats’ national brand (such as the movement to “Defund the Police”) that were likely to be liabilities in a swing district. Republican attacks on Eastman simply linked her to Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and she was quickly branded “Comrade Kara” by her opponent.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the NRCC ran these messages in their ads. The NRCC obviously conducted testing and found that linking Eastman to Bernie Sanders and AOC was enough to turn off key voters in her district.
In 2020, Biden won NE-02 by nearly seven points — a roughly 10-point swing from 2016 — while Eastman lost by about five points. This 12-point drop-off from the top of the ticket down means 6% of NE-02 voters cast split tickets for Biden and Bacon. At the same time, Bacon outperformed Donald Trump by about 17,000 votes.
Not only is Eastman the lone Justice Democrats-backed candidate to have run in a swing district, but, in losing a district that Joe Biden won handily, she was the Democratic Party’s most critical under-performer in the 2020 cycle.
Eastman tried to rationalize her loss by suggesting that the deck was simply stacked insurmountably against any Democrat running for Congress in the district, arguing that it wouldn’t have mattered who was running in her position. But other local Democrats disagree: as the Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman said of the race, “if you just look at how Biden performed versus [Eastman], [Eastman] did not fit the district.” What might a better fit look like for NE-2? The most recent Democrat to hold the seat was not only a moderate but had run for other elected offices as both a Republican and independent.
The takeaway here isn’t complicated: the far-left can knock out incumbents or win open primaries in deep-blue districts, but it has yet to win in the critical swing districts that decide control of Congress. The far-left brand is distinctly unpopular in flippable districts and, despite making for a catchy headline, it is a losing strategy to run a Brooklyn-style campaign in the heartland. Justice Democrats and Our Revolution have flipped zero Republican-held Congressional seats — a trend that continued in 2022.
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