News Politics

Pro-Choice Groups Are Backing Kara Eastman. What About the Democratic Party?

Ally Boguhn

A spokesperson for the Eastman campaign told Rewire.News that the campaign had been in regular contact with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

National reproductive rights organizations this week endorsed Democrat Kara Eastman, a progressive running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District after she scored a major upset when she won her May primary against Democratic Party favorite, former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has yet to formally back Eastman in its “Red to Blue” program after siding with her rival in the primary, though the campaign says it’s in regular contact with the DCCC.

On Tuesday, EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the National Organization for Women PAC finally lined up behind Eastman. “It is time for our country to acknowledge that a woman’s right to choose is about her personal freedom,” said Eastman in a statement on the endorsements, adding that she is “excited to work alongside” the organizations “to ensure that all American women have the freedom to access the reproductive health care they need without government interference.”

“Kara has proven that she can win the tough fights and has what it takes to flip this seat,” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, said in a statement. “Families in the 2nd District deserve someone who will fight for their best interests in Washington, and Kara will be that fighter.”

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“Kara Eastman has shown her courage, her tenacity and her values by stepping up to be part of the solution this crucial election, and every step of the way she’s shown she will be a champion for women and families in Congress,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement announcing the endorsement. “We’re thrilled to support Kara Eastman and know she will be the strong voice for reproductive freedom that our Nebraska members deserve.”

NARAL in late May launched what it deemed its “largest ever” midterm election program, spending $5 million to support candidates in 19 states in hopes of electing a pro-choice majority in the House.

NARAL had stayed out of the primary, despite some anti-choice votes cast by Ashford during his time in the state legislature. Speaking to the Nation‘s Katha Pollitt about why pro-choice groups had not jumped into the race, Hogue said Ashford had worked with NARAL. Ashford received a 100 percent voting record on NARAL’S 2015 legislative scorecard when he served in the U.S. Congress.

Hogue told the Nation in regard to Eastman, “We love that she’s taken a strong stand, but she has no voting record,” adding that since both candidates supported reproductive rights, there had been “no compelling reason for us to support” Eastman over Ashford.

The DCCC did, however, jump into the primary race. It added Ashford to its “Red to Blue” program, which seeks to flip congressional seats by providing “top-tier candidates with organizational and fundraising support to help them continue to run strong campaigns.”

After Eastman’s victory, the DCCC noted in a memo that Eastman would “receive more than $128,000 in nominee funds from ActBlue and Swing Left designated for the winner of the primary, with more to come.” It praised Eastman for prompting “unprecedented Democratic energy in this swing district.” ActBlue and Swing Left are fundraising organizations that work to get Democrats elected. The campaign confirmed that it had received those funds.

“After a positive, issues-based campaign, nearly 40,000 NE-02 voters turned out for the 2018 Democratic primary, an eye-popping number considering that only 26,000 voters turned out for the 2016 Democratic presidential primary,” the DCCC said.

DCCC Chair Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) called Eastman to congratulate her. It has since maintained an office and staff in the district. Still, Eastman’s district is not listed on the DCCC’s list of Red to Blue districts as it had been when Ashford was in the running.

Heather Aliano, communications director for the Eastman campaign, told Rewire.News that the campaign is, according to Aliano, “pursuing the Red to Blue list, and are working with the DCCC towards that goal. We have been in regular contact with them, and are confident that we will have their support in the general election.”

Evan Lukaske, a spokesperson for the DCCC in a statement to Rewire.News said that it “is working with Kara to continue to build her strong campaign, and to run a tough race against Congressman Bacon, who has voted to repeal health care for Nebraska families.”

Additional national attention to the race would be welcomed among many of Eastman’s supporters.

“It would be great to see national Democrats get behind Kara,” Kristen Hernandez, campaign communications manager for EMILY’s List, told Rewire.News. “We chose to support her because we believe she is a strong candidate who has a good chance at flipping the seat, and so any additional national support that she could build up we, of course, would support.”

During the primary, Eastman told Rewire.News that she had initially been “surprised” when the DCCC backed Ashford. “I had been talking to them as well and they had told me that they would not be getting involved,” she said at the time. Eastman had called her district “one of the most highly contested districts in the nation right now” and suggested Democrats didn’t need to steer to the right to win the race.

Aliano said the campaign expects Eastman “to continue to be competitive, as her common-sense ideas are resonating well with voters in the district.” Eastman, who was backed by national progressive groups and advocates including the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Justice Democrats, and the Working Families Party, won her primary with 51.4 percent of the vote, compared to Ashford’s 48.6 percent.

“She’s campaigning on issues that matterAmericans need to be able to go to the doctor when they are ill and afford the medications they need,” Aliano said. “They need to be able to send their children to school, or to church, or to a concert or the mall without fear of another shooting. Families need to be able to afford to pay their utility bills, and also put food on the table and gas in the car. We all want common sense solutions to these problemsand Kara will be a step in the right direction.”

Eastman will face incumbent Republican Rep. Don Bacon in the November midterm election.

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