As the House resoundingly passed a measure Friday authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline and it headed to the Senate despite increasing signals by the president he would veto the legislation, Republicans were left wondering how one of the key GOP House members behind the pipeline was defeated for re-election.
Certainly a strong vote for one of his challengers, a Libertarian candidate, and some controversial remarks he made as to why he didn't decline his paycheck during the government shutdown, helped finish Rep. Lee Terry from Nebraska.
Several sources who spoke to Newsmax agreed that a strong turnout in the 2nd District for an initiative to raise Nebraska's minimum wage brought out enough votes to elect Democrat (and former Republican State Sen.) Brad Ashford over Terry — a 16-year incumbent and long the pivotal point man for Keystone XL on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
But minimum wage hikes were also on the statewide ballots in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, and South Dakota, and Republicans won the ballot in all four states. That the turnout for the increase worked so well for Democrats in Nebraska indicates there were other ingredients in the mix to make Terry one of three incumbent House Republicans to lose re-election this year.
(Also defeated was Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida, who lost to Democrat Gwen Graham, daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham; and Louisiana's Rep. Vance McAllister, doomed by a film of him intensely kissing a staffer. McAllister placed fourth in his state's multiparty primary, but he will be succeeded by a fellow Republican).
In final returns from the Omaha-based 2nd District, Terry lost to Democrat Ashford by a margin of 48.6 percent (76,354 votes) to 46.0 percent (72,222), with 5.3 percent (8,391) for Libertarian Steve Laird.
As is often the case in close races with a Libertarian contender, Laird's vote total spelled the difference between victory and defeat for the Republican.
Terry has had other problems with the tea party movement within his party. In the May primary, tea party challenger Dan Frei stunned observers by holding the veteran congressman to just under 53 percent of the vote.
"There are always several factors when it's that close a race," Terry told Newsmax shortly after conceding the race, "but you also have to remember that the Omaha World-Herald — still the only major paper here — has had it in for me since '11. [The World-Herald is owned by liberal investments kingpin Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Company]. But I wouldn't credit my loss to the World-Herald.
"And yes, my remarks caused a problem for me."
By "my remarks," the congressman referred to his much-publicized reply to a reporter as to why he would not follow the examples of many colleagues during the government shutdown of 2013 and decline his paycheck or donate it to charity.
"I've got a nice house and a kid in college, and I'll tell you we cannot handle it," Terry said at the time. "Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That's just not going to fly."
Democrats hit that hard and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee deployed more than $1 million on anti-Terry television broadsides in the 2nd District.
But Terry and other Cornhusker State Republicans believe the strong vote within the 2nd District in favor of Initiative 425, the statewide proposal to raise Nebraska's minimum wage, was pivotal to his defeat.
"They spent more than $1 million and had 10 full-time staffers working on 425," Terry told us, "and they didn't run any TV. It was a complete ground game."
It worked. Supporters of Initiative 425 "had particularly targeted Democrats as a key demographic — especially Democrats who did not have a history of being reliable voters," reported the World-Herald. "The minimum wage backers sent out two rounds of postage-paid postcards urging targeted voters to request mail-in ballots."
One of the key beneficiaries of this was Democrat Ashford, who won a striking 18,300 early voters in Douglas County (Omaha) to 9,300 for Terry — or more than twice the 4,100 votes he eventually beat the incumbent congressman by.
Terry and others pointed out that if early voting was not allowed, the Republican would have won by 5,200 votes among those who cast their ballots at the polls on Nov. 4.
As to whether Terry suffered from his front-and-center role in getting the vote on Keystone XL to the point where it passed the House on Friday was unclear.
Although the portion of the pipeline that impacts Nebraska would be built west of Omaha and create an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 jobs for the state, there is also a well-funded local opposition group to Keystone XL known as "Bold Nebraska."
"They're anti-Keystone all the way and bankrolled in part by [billionaire environmentalist] Tom Steyer," Terry said.
The group has long hammered Terry for his role as "the top cheerleader in Congress for TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline instead of standing with Nebraskans who care about their land and water," according to Bold Nebraska's Director Jane Kleeb.
In discussing his defeat with Newsmax, Terry mentioned the man who is considered his most vigorous campaigner: his father, Lee Terry Sr., 82, onetime TV anchorman and himself the Republican nominee for the same seat in 1976.
"Dad took the outcome harder than I did," the congressman said. "As for me, I'm just going to move on and do something else."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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