Former congressman Brad Ashford has raised roughly one and a quarter as much as nonprofit executive Kara Eastman in the race to see who will be the Democratic nominee for Nebraska’s 2nd District House seat.
The two are vying to replace incumbent Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican, in what is likely to be a closely contested and nationally watched race.
Overall, Ashford has raised roughly $125,000 to Eastman’s $100,000, according to campaign finance reports that were due to the Federal Election Commission on Sunday.
The early numbers are good for Eastman, said Randall Adkins, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. But he said Eastman, a member of the Metropolitan Community College board, needs to overcome Ashford’s high name recognition in the district, which includes Douglas County and part of Sarpy County.
“She actually needs to outpace him on fundraising and not just stay at parity with him, because she needs to let people know who she is,” Adkins said.
Eastman has been fundraising for longer — about $70,000 of her funding came in during the latest quarter, which was July to September.
Ashford, on the other hand, raised nearly all of his $125,000 in those three months.
Eastman ended the quarter with about $50,000 in the bank, compared with Ashford’s $100,000.
Bacon has raised about $900,000 so far this election cycle, including about $250,000 during the latest quarter.
Both the Eastman and Ashford campaigns say they met their targets this quarter.
But Paul Landow, a UNO political science professor and a Democrat, said those figures are “woefully short.”
He expects the two combined to spend $1.5 million between now and the May 15 primary. Then the victor will have to turn around and raise more money to challenge Bacon.
“Their fundraising is so anemic on both of their parts that it really doesn’t say much about anything other than they better get going, both of them,” Landow said.
Both campaigns rejected that assertion.
“It’s so much easier to do Monday morning quarterbacking than play in the game on Sunday,” said Sheena Kadi, Eastman’s campaign manager.
Eastman’s challenge will be to get her name in front of voters in a district where Ashford has been in the public eye for decades as a state lawmaker and has already won a congressional race.
“We are not under any false illusions,” Kadi said. “The majority of the folks we’ve been talking to, they’ve heard of Brad Ashford. The majority of folks in the district, they haven’t heard of Kara Eastman.”
But Kadi said the voters who have heard Eastman’s message are responding well.
Kadi said the campaign expects to spend about $800,000 for the primary. Much of that will be spent on field work, such as door-knocking, and on reaching out to voters through mail or television ads.
For the first few months of fundraising, Eastman tapped into her network of friends and family.
Now, Kadi said, she hopes to broaden that support. She’s planning to reach out to political action committees, including taking a trip to Washington, D.C., next month.
Ian Russell, a campaign consultant for Ashford, declined to pinpoint a figure, but he said Ashford is on track to win.
“Congressman Ashford has twice the cash on hand of his primary opponent and we’re very confident in the trajectory of our fundraising,” Russell said.
Ashford garnered support from friends, local business leaders and from national Democratic groups.
Local donors include business leaders Walter Scott, Michael Yanney and Dana Bradford.
National support for Ashford came from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
He also got support from two moderate Democratic political action committees: the Blue Dogs and the New Democrat Coalition.