Tag Archives: Ann Ashford

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: ANN ASHFORD

Ann Ashford is a Democratic candidate for Nebraska’s 2nd District. She is an “attorney, human resources professional, and healthcare leader” and wife of the district’s previous representative, Brad Ashford. Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated the district a “Toss Up” for 2020. In 2014, Brad Ashford won the district by 3.3% but lost in 2016 to the current Republican representative, Don Bacon, by 1.2%. In 2018, Kara Eastman, a strident progressive, defeated establishment-backed candidate Brad Ashford in the primary. Eastman went on to lose the election to Bacon by 2%. Ann hopes that her moderate, bipartisan tone can win the Democratic nomination and appeal to moderate voters in the general. Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post to get an overview of the district, the 2018 election and the upcoming 2020 race. This interview was conducted on Monday, April 29, 2019.

The following interview has been condensed and edited to remove unnecessary words, phrases and questions for clarity. If you want the full, messy, extended version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews –> Extended Interviews.


Seth: Hi Ann this is Seth Moskowitz calling from Every Second Year.
Ashford: Hi Jack [ouch], how are you? 

Seth: I’m good, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. How is the campaign is going?
Ashford: The campaign is going fine. We announced early only because my primary primary opponent announced in December that she was going to run again. My daily life consists of calls and meeting with as many people as possible and the only hesitation I’ve received from anybody is that it’s so darn early. They’re still recovering from the last election.

Seth: Have you made any pledges to not accept money from corporate PACs or any boundaries to where you will or will not accept money? 
Ashford: I have not made any pledges. I don’t see any reason why I would not accept money from a corporate PAC. If it’s a company that, for example, manufactures weapons of mass destruction, first of all they’re not going to be interested in giving me a donation. But secondly, if they were, I wouldn’t take it. 

Seth: You’ve been a member of campaigns and elections in the past: 2014, ’16 and ’18. What things have you learned about being a candidate?
Ashford: I think the number one thing is that you get out and meet as many voters as possible. It takes that personal touch. The second lesson that I’ve learned is that sometimes pledges come back to bite you, so be really careful about the pledges that you take. I don’t see a pledge out there yet that I would pledge to.

Seth: Are you seeing that voters are receptive to hearing from candidates or are they wanting a break from all the campaigning?
Ashford: To me, they’re more open to hearing from candidates. They’re actually asking for it. They want to stay away from the fundraising right now. But as far as hearing about your positions or wanting a chance to meet you, they’re very open to that. 

Seth: What is your short pitch about your priorities and why you think you’re the best candidate?
Ashford: I was born in this district and I’ve grown up in this district and have worked all my professional life in this district. I understand the district but I’m always willing to listen and hear more. I don’t care for labels, but I label myself as a “pragmatic problem solver.” I will work with anybody to get the solutions that we need to have. I think we have too much fighting in Washington today. When we all have a common goal, whatever that common goal is, we come with all of our different perspectives and we figure out what’s the lowest common denominator and start working from there. In the case of health care, I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t agree that pre-existing conditions need to be covered at no penalty to the person being covered. We should be able to enter a room and 45 minutes later come out with a solution. Let’s pick off the easy fruit first and then worry about the more difficult issues. 

Seth: What are your other primary focuses other than health care?
Ashford: Number two is probably education and affordability for our students and trying to deal with how we are educating people for the new economy. And the economy in general. Are we making sure that workers’ rights are protected? And are we making sure that they’re getting a fair wage for what they are doing? One of my top issues is infrastructure. we need a lot of remediation across this country and then there’s some new infrastructure that needs to be built as well. So, we need to concentrate on those issues.

Seth: The new freshmen class that was elected to Congress in 2018 seems like it has two wings, the more progressive wing of the party with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar and then the more moderate members of the party like Abigail Spanberger and Ben McAdams. Do you align more closely with either of those two coalitions?
Ashford: Yes, absolutely. My [first] goal is to get elected to Congress, my second goal is to join the New Democratic Coalition. They are that bipartisan-thinking group. They’re pragmatic. They’re business oriented. They’re a little bit more fiscally conservative. And if you look, their membership went from, I think before 2018 it was somewhere in the low 40s to well above 100. Most of the members went there because they see that across the country, that’s where people are. People are more moderate. 

Seth: The majority of people who did flip districts were in the more conservative or red-ish districts and most of the people that flipped those districts were the more moderate candidates. So, it’s interesting when AOC and Ilhan Omar get all the media attention. 
Ashford: And it’s a little frustrating. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez could probably get elected in perhaps, perhaps four districts across this country. But there are a lot more districts than that and so the media does turn to them for attention. The media has a job to do and they want to market themselves as well and so they’re going to get the people on either end of the spectrum to sort of give more volume to those voices because that makes news. The things that make the news are those that are yelling about.

Seth: Where do you fall ideologically within the party?
Ashford: On the social issues I guess I would be more progressive but I’m always pragmatic and on the fiscal issues I am more in the pragmatic center. 

Seth: You said in a tweet about the Green New Deal that “We need action not an unrelated wish list. A complete overhaul of our economic and healthcare system.” So, you’re not on board with bundling all those progressive priorities into one piece of legislation. 
Ashford: No, I think that that’s the way we’re gonna lose, if we try to bundle everything together. What the Green New Deal seemed to say, or at least how it was being framed by the more conservative people across the country, was that it’s a complete takeover of everything in our economy. Let’s not fall into those traps and allow them to be able to frame us in such a way that it makes it unpalatable for everybody. Let’s tackle these things sort of one at a time. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be done contemporaneously, but let’s tackle them one at a time and separately instead of trying to wrap everything into the Green New Deal. 

Seth: Do you think that running to the left hurt the Democratic candidate, Kara Eastman, in the 2018 election?
Ashford: Yes absolutely. She ran too far to the left for this district. She ran true to herself because she is truly on the far left. She aligns herself with Bernie Sanders, and that’s not something that’s palatable in this district. I don’t think you should change yourself for an election. For goodness sake, be true to yourself, but she made it a point to only try and attract and turn out Democrats. We are still +5 Republican in this district if I’m not mistaken. We have a heck of a lot of independents and I will pursue every vote from every person. I don’t care what letter is behind their name. 

Seth: When you look at Nebraska Second relative to the National Popular Vote for the House it was a pretty heavy swing away from the Democrat [relative to previous years]. I’m interested to hear what her explanation would be for that swing if it’s not coming from the candidate. 
Ashford:  I would be fascinated to hear that as well because that’s not something I’ve heard her acknowledge. And I can’t speak for her so, that’s probably all I have to say about that. I understand she performed 10 points worse than the rest of the country as far as Democrats went. And that is a case of having a candidate that doesn’t match the district. 

Seth: How do you plan to convince those Democratic voters that you’re the right candidate? 
Ashford: I talk to every single person I can and if I can’t do it personally, I have my campaign do it. And have them understand if you want to be able to win this in the general district, you’re going to have to select a candidate that will be palatable to the entire district and not just a portion. 

Seth: And how receptive have Democratic primary voters been to that more pragmatic argument?
Ashford: I’ve talked to hundreds of people so far and they’ve been very receptive to that. They’re asking for a candidate that can be more pragmatic, more centrist and that can actually win in the district.

Seth: You changed your party registration from Republican to Democrat in 2016. Can you explain your reasoning and thought process behind that?
Ashford: Sure. So, I’ve always been a pro-choice woman. I was on the board of Planned Parenthood in the nineties and I still maintain that affiliation. I have always been pro-gun control. The Republican Party, I knew had left me a while ago, but I still thought that I could try to work to change it from within and we know how that turned out. It didn’t. As a part of my husband’s service on the federal level, I was able to meet federal leaders. And what I saw was that true willingness to be the big tent party and not only willingness but they actually put action behind their words. They are truly the big tent party who allows people from all different ideologies as long as they stick to a general core of tenants that the Democratic Party believes in. Now part of the criticism my primary primary challenger will level at me is that I’m a relatively new Democrat. In my experience in the world, whether its political party or religion or anything else, it always seems like converts are the biggest believers because we made that conscious decision. Not to take anything from those from which it was family tradition or anything else, but I made that conscious decision as an adult to say, “This is where I want to be. This is where I feel like I’m home.” 

Seth: Are there any core tenants of the Democratic Party that should prohibit somebody from being a member of the party if they don’t pass that litmus test? Do you think somebody who is pro-life should be able to run as a Democrat and be a member of the party?
Ashford: Yes, I do think that they should be able to run as a Democrat. I think they’re going to have a tougher road to hoe. But yes. A part of being welcoming to all, is not putting those litmus tests on people and I think that that actually hurts. There’s a heck of a lot of people who grew up in the Irish Catholic tradition who are pro-life, who are staunch Democrats. We shouldn’t say, “No you can’t be a Democrat.”

Seth: Without those litmus tests, what brings Democrats together?
Ashford: The number one thing that brings Democrats together is their willingness to listen to all diverse opinions and try to do the right thing for people. Whether it’s ensuring that the economy works for everybody, the education system works for everybody, that it’s more focused on making sure that those opportunities are there for all of us and to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep those opportunities going. 

Seth: I’m curious where you stand on the idea of more structural changes to the way that our government works: getting rid of the Electoral College, adding Supreme Court seats, statehood for Puerto Rico and D.C. We can go through those one by one if you have ideas about them all. 
Ashford: Sure. 

Seth: The Electoral College?
Ashford: The number one challenge to getting rid of it that I hear that it will hurt rural states with a much lesser population. I understand the desire to get rid of the electoral college. I don’t think we’ve hit upon a solution yet. I think probably the solution is going to be somewhere between the Electoral College as it is today and the popular vote. I’m not ready to say get rid of the Electoral College wholly today because of all of us districts out here in the middle of the country where we don’t have as much population across our state. I like the way that Nebraska and Maine do it where we attribute the Electoral College votes by Congressional District. Perhaps that’s a way to get there sooner rather than switching massively to the entire just popular vote. 

Seth: Statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.?
Ashford: If I were going to vote on it, I would vote yes. 

Seth: Adding seats to the Supreme Court?
Ashford: I have to tell you I haven’t really thought about that. My initial reaction would be no. You need to play the cards you’re dealt. But I don’t know. I haven’t given that any thought. As an individual, I’ve always been concerned that you could pack the court if you have a number of resignations or death or retirement during one term and it could make you, depending on who was president and who was in the Senate it could make you really happy or really unhappy. It is something to think about.

Seth: The Mueller Report came out recently. Are you in favor of the party holding impeachment hearings or do you think that they should wait for the 2020 election and let voters decide if the president deserves to stay in office?
Ashford: Neither. I’m in favor of them conducting a thorough investigation and subpoenaing all of the individuals that they need to, to obtain more information about issues raised in the Mueller Report, and then making the decision whether or not impeachment needs to occur. The one thing that concerns me is impeachment distracting people from getting their jobs done, because that has to happen contemporaneously with addressing immigration, with addressing healthcare, with addressing infrastructure. That’s where the primary focus needs to be while in the background these further investigations need to be going on to ensure that we have a president that should be legally allowed to be kept in office.  

Seth: Is a representative’s job to represent the views of your constituents even if they go against what you personally believe? Or do voters send you to Washington to make decisions based on your personal ideology?
Ashford: Somewhere in the middle but closer to the fact that you are representing. It’s in the title for goodness sake. We’re being sent as a representative so you better darn well be listening to your constituents. Obviously, people need to know me well enough and to trust me well enough that my moral judgement will come in play if we haven’t encountered an issue in the district so far and it’s a brand-new issue. Because you can’t poll everything.

Seth: Is there a presidential candidate or candidates that you support?
Ashford: There are a number of candidates that I really like and that’s the difficulty right now. I love that so many candidates are in the race, but by the same token, the last time around the Democrats couldn’t really get it together between only two candidates. So how are we going to coalesce behind one? Have we learned that lesson well enough? Vice President Biden is one of my favorite people. Because of his age, he needs to choose or at least indicate who he would choose as a vice presidential running mate because that’ll be a concern people have in their heads. I love Pete Buttigieg. I am intrigued by people like Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris. If I start to name them, I’m going to exclude someone. I don’t mean to exclude anybody and say that, “Gosh I’m not interested in them or impressed by them.”

Seth: It sounds like you support the more moderate wing of the party.  
Ashford: Yeah. I’m a centrist so those people attract me more. 

Seth: Are there any specific issues related to the current representative, Don Bacon, that you plan on highlighting if you make it to the general election?
Ashford: His votes on health care, especially in his first term, are simply ridiculous. To gut and try and get rid of any protection that the ACA has given us without a reasonable alternative that makes it better for all of us. His vote against the Violence Against Women Act and somehow trying to justify that it might shut down shelters who are religious based. It just doesn’t make any sense.

His vote for the tax plan, and not taking into account the fact that there are unintended consequences. And forgetting that the Gold Star families who Representative Bacon holds himself up as being their biggest supporter, well now their hurt in the payments that they receive and are taxed a higher level for those payments. The record setting deficit and debt that this tax plan brought into place.

His seeming support of the president when he puts into place tariffs. We just had historic flooding in Nebraska and Iowa and Missouri that is just awful and horrific. These farmers who were already under the gun because of the tariffs and low crop prices, I don’t know how some of them are going to make it. He’s a nice man, but he’s just not doing anything to help this district. 

Seth: What are the first three things or two things Democrats should do to improve health care coverage in the country?
Ashford: To improve coverage, I would make Medicare a public option. On the marketplace, Medicare would be right there whether you’re employed or getting it on your own.

To improve cost issues, I would do two things with pharmaceutical companies. First of all, I always find it amusing to say give Medicare the ability to negotiate pricing with pharmaceutical companies the same way that they do with hospitals and physicians. They don’t negotiate with hospitals and physicians, they tell them what they’re going to get paid. They need to do that with the pharmaceutical companies. You tell them what you’re going to get paid. The private insurance companies take their lead form Medicare. That’s how they base all of their practices and pricing. So, once we can get that done with Medicare, it would bleed naturally into the commercial market.

The other thing with pharmaceutical companies, I would drastically limit the type of advertising they can do. There’re three kinds of advertising. The third kind is the only allowed in this country and New Zealand. And that’s where the pharmaceutical company is allowed to talk about a disease state and symptoms of a disease state and then talk about a specific medication to address that disease state. I would drastically eliminate that. I think if I remember right, the number is 6.7 billion in 2017 was spent by pharmaceutical companies on that kind of advertising. It’s absolutely ridiculous. What you have is patients coming into the office saying “Doc, I think I have restless leg syndrome and I need the medication to go with it” and naming the specific medication. It forces the physician to have to give unnecessary tests. Second, let’s assume there is restless leg syndrome, then trying to convince the patient perhaps medication isn’t the first course of treatment. Or, if it is a medication that’s necessary, it could be perhaps a generic or something that’s been on the market for a longer time instead of this medication that they spent billions of dollars to advertise. So, all of those things go into increasing our healthcare costs tremendously and we need to put some limits on them now.

So those are the first three things I would do. I don’t see that the Medicare for All is something that’s feasible in today’s political world so, why are we going to waste time on it? My husband’s on Medicare, I also think that people don’t understand that there are still costs involved. So, he pays a monthly premium. He has deductibles and copays. We pay for a supplemental policy to make sure that more is covered. He has to pay for a Part D for prescription drugs. It’s not just free. And I’m not an apologist for insurance companies by any means, but people always seem to think that the insurance companies are these big bad ugly beings because they have second opinions required or preauthorization. You know where they got those ideas? From Medicare. It’s not as though Medicare is this lovely entity that just says “Anything you want anytime. We’re good”. It’s complicated and it’s hard and it should be out there for people who want to buy it as a public option, but it’s not yet at the place where people seem to think “Gosh, it means everything will be covered and I won’t have to come up with any extra money.” 

Seth: The idea of lowering the overall cost of healthcare goes hand in hand with the idea of cost sharing like is in place in Medicare right now. Do you think that there should be that cost sharing in Medicare?
Ashford: There’s some cost sharing that makes sense and some that doesn’t. For instance, the ACA made sure that everybody has the opportunity to go and get preventative health care every single year with no extra cost to themselves. That needs to stay in place because we need people going to their physicians or health care providers to make sure that they are keeping up with their health care. And then there needs to be some kind of cost sharing, but it often needs to be means based too. I worked with providers every single day who don’t ask the patient “can you pay?” when they come in the door. They take them and then there’s backroom people trying to figure out how they can get payment for those services afterwards.

Seth: I know you are busy and you probably have something to go do. So, I have a few more questions. Is there any issue on which you don’t agree with that is in the Democratic Party’s
Ashford: Not that I can think of. If there is one out there, I just haven’t encountered it yet.

Seth: Do you have a planned date to have a platform or issues on your website?
Ashford: And for dates on the platform, we’re targeting the beginning of June for a formal kickoff and I plan on having position papers out around that same time.

Seth: I really do appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
Ashford: Absolutely, this is fun. It’s always good to think about the issues and have someone question you. So, it was very helpful to me.

Seth: Okay goodbye. 
Ashford: Take care. 

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: ANN ASHFORD (EXTENDED)

Ann Ashford is a Democratic candidate for Nebraska’s 2nd District. She is an “attorney, human resources professional, and healthcare leader” and wife of the district’s previous representative, Brad Ashford. Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated the district a “Toss Up” for 2020. In 2014, Brad Ashford won the district by 3.3% but lost in 2016 to the current Republican representative, Don Bacon, by 1.2%. In 2018, Kara Eastman, a strident progressive, defeated establishment-backed candidate Brad Ashford in the primary. Eastman went on to lose the election to Bacon by 2%. Ann hopes that her moderate, bipartisan tone can win the Democratic nomination and appeal to moderate voters in the general. Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post to get an overview of the district, the 2018 election and the upcoming 2020 race. This interview was conducted on Monday, April 29, 2019.

The following interview has been very lightly edited. No substantial content was removed or added. The only edits were taking out unnecessary words or phrases like “I mean”, “Well”, “So” and “Um” for clarity. If you want a condensed version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews -> Condensed within one day of this extended interview being posted. 


Ashford: Hello this is Ann. 
Seth: Hi Ann this is Seth Moskowitz calling from Every Second Year

Ashford: Hi Jack [ouch], how are you? 
Seth: I’m good, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it. 
Ashford: No problem. 
Seth: I hear you are maybe in an airport?
Ashford: So, I was going to be and then my husband suffered some health problems over the weekend so I am delaying my trip to D.C. until a couple weeks from now. 
Seth: I’m sorry to hear that. 
Ashford: Thank you. That’s what happens, you make plans and then some eternal force, like God, interferes. 
Seth: I hope everything is okay and it’s not too serious.
Ashford: Thank you, I think it’ll be fine. 

Seth: Okay, good. I know that you’re probably very busy and you want to get back to taking care and making sure that he’s healthy so I’ll just jump right in. I’m curious if you can just tell me a little about how the campaign is going, what your day to day life looks like and how you see that the campaign has gone so far. 
Ashford: Sure, the campaign is going fine. We started in, I think my first phone calls were February 19th and we announced early only because my primary primary opponent, because now there’s two more that have entered the race, announced in December that she was going to run again. The only hesitation I’ve received from all the calls that I’m making…so my daily life consists of calls and meeting with as many people as possible and the only hesitation I’ve received from anybody is that it’s so darn early. They’re still recovering from the last election and their support will come. It’ll just come at a later time. 

Seth: I’ve read some things about incumbents who won in 2018 and feel uncomfortable fundraising because they feel like they just finished their election and there’s so much pressure to already start ramping up even though it felt like it was three months ago and they have to start fundraising again. 
Ashford: Yeah, it’s sort of silly. Usually incumbents are able to do it quietly behind the scenes during those first few months after the election but everybody is out there right now. And the pressure is put on by…what do we have now? 21 candidates in the Democratic primary for president? So that lends some pressure to it as well where people are just saying, ‘Guys we need to just take a little breather.’ 

Seth: I think that’s fair but I also understand why you wanted to get in early. So, while we’re on the topic of fundraising, in the Democratic Party there’s been a lot of people making pledges about where they will and where they won’t accept money from and I’m curious if you have made any pledges or made any decisions about not accepting money from corporate PACs or any boundaries to where you will or will not accept money from. 
Ashford: I have not made any pledges. I don’t see any reason why I would not accept money from a corporate PAC… unless it’s a corporate PAC that…I come from the business world so I understand corporate PACs are a function of entities. If it’s a company that, for example, manufactures weapons of mass destruction, first of all they’re not going to be interested in giving me a donation. But secondly, if they were, I wouldn’t take it. 

Seth: So, it sounds like you’ll take it as it goes and see who is actually trying to donate rather than make a blanket statement about not accepting…
Ashford: Right. 

Seth: Okay. So, another pretty broad question is…you’ve been a member of campaigns and elections in the past: 2014, ’16 and ’18 and I’m curious what things you’ve learned about being a candidate. Given that you’ve been so close to them in recent years. 
Ashford: Sure. I think the number one thing is that you get out and meet as many voters as possible. It takes that personal touch so that’s the number one lesson that I’ve learned. Probably the second lesson that I’ve learned is that sometimes pledges come back to bite you so be really careful about the pledges that you take. I don’t see a pledge out there yet that I would pledge to just because it does come back to bite you. I was just talking with some folks in Washington who said there are a heck of a lot of candidates who were elected this last cycle who took some pledges and now are trying to figure out, gosh how do I not go back on them because they want to remain faithful to the pledges they made but how do I maneuver around this now because it’s put me in a difficult spot. But the number one rule is: get out and meet as many people as possible and be accessible to voters. 

Seth: Are you seeing that voters are receptive to hearing from candidates or are they wanting a break from all the campaigning given that it was so recent? Or are you seeing that they’re more open to hearing form candidates this early? 
Ashford: To me they’re more open to hearing from candidates. They’re actually asking for it. They want to stay away from the fundraising right now. They just want a little break from that. But as far as hearing about your positions or wanting a chance to meet you or coming up to you in the store and saying “Oh I recognize you. I know who you are. Can we chat for a few minutes?” They’re very open to that. 

Seth: And in those situations, what is your short pitch about your priorities and why you think you’re the best candidate? When you meet a voter out there, what’s your go-to explanation about your candidacy and your primary goals if you were to be elected to office?
Ashford: I was born in this district and I’ve grown up in this district and have worked all my professional life in this district. I understand the district but I’m always willing to listen and hear more. I don’t care for labels, but I label myself as a ‘pragmatic problem solver’. I will work with anybody to get the solutions that we need to have. I think we have too much fighting in Washington today where people just go to their separate sides of the ring and the only reason they come out is to go into battle instead of reach solutions. So, I’m all about reaching solutions. That’s what my business background taught me. When we’re around a business table and we all have a common goal, whatever that common goal is, we come with all of our different perspectives and we figure out what’s the lowest common denominator and start working from there. And so, you can tackle things pretty much right away. I use the example of health care. Twenty of my years of experience have been in health care. Twenty of my years — not consecutive — have been in human resources and what we need to do is figure out those lowest common denominators. So, in the case of health care, I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t agree that pre-existing conditions need to be covered at no penalty to the person being covered. So, no extra charges, things like that. So, gosh, if we all had the right intentions, we should be able to enter a room and 45 minutes later come out with a solution. Let’s pick off the easy fruit first and then worry about the more difficult issues. 

Seth: And so, what are your other primary focuses other than health care if you were to be elected?
Ashford: Number one is health care. Number two is probably education and affordability for our students and trying to deal with how we are educating people for the new economy, which is not so new, it’s here already. But new economy that may be coming down the road. And the economy in general. Are we making sure that workers’ rights are protected? And are we making sure that they’re getting a fair wage for what they are doing? 

Seth: The new freshmen class that was elected to Congress in 2018. I know you said you don’t like labels and I appreciate that, but do you see yourself as aligning…to me it seems like there is two wings of the party that really come to the front. The more, I’m going to use labels, but, progressive wing of the party with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar and then the more, another label, ‘moderate’ or ‘bipartisan’ members of the party like Abigail Spanberger and Ben McAdams near you in Utah, and I’m curious if you see yourself as aligning more closely with either of those two coalitions within the House of Representatives?
Ashford: Yes, absolutely. I see myself as, one of my goals is to get elected to Congress first, my second goal then is to join the New Democratic Coalition. And they are that bipartisan, sort of thinking group. They’re pragmatic. They’re business oriented. They’re a little bit more fiscally conservative than people farther on the left and progressive, as the label may be. So, I would align myself with the New Democratic Coalition. And if you look, their membership went from, I think before 2018 it was somewhere in the low 40s, for the membership of the New Dems. Now it’s well above 100 and so most of the members went there because they see that across the country, that’s where people are. People are more moderate. 

Seth: It’s surprising when you look at those numbers especially when you hear the people who are getting the attention in the news and in the media. Because the majority of people who did flip districts were in the more conservative or red-ish districts and most of the people that flipped those districts were the more moderate candidates. So, it’s interesting when AOC and Ilhan Omar are getting all the media attention rather than the majority of the people who were elected and flipped districts. 
Ashford: And it’s a little frustrating. There were just Democratic officials here in this state who told me, cause think about it. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez could probably get elected in perhaps, perhaps four districts across this country. But there are a lot more districts than that and so the media does turn to them for attention. The media has a job to do and they want to market themselves as well and so they’re going to get the people on either end of the spectrum to sort of give more volume to those voices because that makes news. People don’t listen to news about the folks who go to work every day and are just doing their jobs and getting things done actually. The things that make the news are those that are yelling about things and giving more volume to their voice in just that these are the things were demanding. Well, either on the left or the right, those are pretty far out there so I would venture to say there are 70% of us across the country who are somewhere across that moderate spectrum. 

Seth: And so when you think of your ideology and where you fall within the party, do you believe that you believe in the more progressive agenda but you’re just more pragmatic about it so you’re willing to make compromises or do you believe that your ideology falls more within that pragmatic range rather than believing in the more progressive but then changing what you’re fighting for because you want to be pragmatic. Where do you see that your ideology falls within that spectrum?
Ashford: So, on the social issues I guess I would be more progressive but I’m always pragmatic and on the fiscal issues I am more in the pragmatic center. 

Seth: Do you have any examples of where you would fall in the more pragmatic center for the fiscal issues?
Ashford: For example, I don’t believe in just wiping out college debt for all. I think we need to look at affordability we look need to look at some income scaling we need to look at what kind of loans they already have out there and if they are able to afford it. I do believe that we’ve gotten out of control with what we’re charging for education number one and then number two when people are trying to deal with their debts and things like that, so we need to look at perhaps making student loan debt a portion of the debt that can be discharged with bankruptcy. Those would be some examples. 

Seth: I saw a tweet that you tweeted out about the Green New Deal and you said “We need action not an unrelated wish list. A complete overhaul of our economic and healthcare system.” So, I’m guessing that you’re not on board with the idea of bundling all those progressive priorities into one piece of legislation. 
Ashford: No, I think that that’s the way we’re gonna lose, if we try to bundle everything together. What the Green New Deal seemed to say or at least how it was being framed by the more conservative people across the country was that it’s a complete takeover of everything in our economy. And so, let’s not fall into those traps and allow them to be able to frame us in such a way that it makes it unpalatable for everybody. Let’s tackle these things sort of one at a time. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be done contemporaneously but let’s tackle them one at a time and separately instead of trying to wrap everything into the Green New Deal. 

Seth: Do you think that sort of running to the left is what hurt the Democratic candidate, Kara Eastman, in the 2018 election?
Ashford: Yes absolutely. She ran too far to the left for this district. She ran true to herself because she is truly on the far left. She aligns herself with Bernie Sanders, and that’s not something that’s palatable in this district. I don’t think you should change yourself for an election. For goodness sake, be true to yourself, but she made it a point to only try and attract and turn out Democrats. We are still +5 Republican in this district if I’m not mistaken. We have a heck of a lot of independents and I will pursue every vote from every person. I don’t care what letter is behind their name. 

Seth: When you look at the numbers of how Nebraska Second was relative to the National Popular Vote for the House it was a pretty heavy swing away from the Democrat. In 2014 it was 9% more Democrat than the country overall. In 2016 it was .4% more Republican and then in 2018 it swung all the way to 10.6% more Republican than the National House Popular Vote. I’m hopefully going to be speaking with her soon so I’m interested to hear what her explanation would be for that swing if it’s not coming from the candidate. 
Ashford:  I would be fascinated to hear that as well because that’s not something I’ve heard her acknowledge. And I can’t speak for her so, that’s probably all I have to say about that. But as a candidate in this race, I understand that. I understand she performed 10 points worse than the rest of the country as far as Democrats went. And that is a case of having a candidate that doesn’t match the district. 

Seth: And so how do you plan to convey to Democratic voters a different message then what happened last cycle for your husband, which Democratic voters decided to go with Kara Eastman, even though she was maybe more progressive than the District was willing to elect. How do you plan to convince those Democratic voters that you’re the right candidate? 
Ashford: I talk to every single person I can and if I can’t do it personally, I have my campaign do it. And have them understand what we need to do to win in this district and have them understand that the goal is, while you may have cheers and claps on primary night, you want to still have those cheers and claps on the general night. And if you want to be able to win this in the general district, you’re going to have to select a candidate that will be palatable to the entire district and not just a portion. 

Seth: And how receptive have Democratic primary voters been to that more pragmatic argument of: even though maybe you align more closely with one candidate, you have to maybe go with a different candidate because that’s the only person who’s gonna win the general.
Ashford: I’ve talked to hundreds of people so far and they’ve been very receptive to that. They were asking for that and perhaps I’m talking to those who did not vote for Ms. Eastman in the general, but I don’t think so. I think I’m talking to a heck of a lot of people and those who did vote for her but they said they felt like their vote wasn’t actually going to matter because they really felt like the current incumbent Don Bacon was going to win again. And so, they’re asking for a candidate that can be more pragmatic, more centrist and that can actually win in the district. That’s the conversations I’ve been having. 

Seth: Am I right that you changed your party registration from Republican to Democrat in 2016?
Ashford: I did. 
Seth: Can you explain your reasoning and thought process behind that and why you decided to make that change?
Ashford: Sure. So, I’ve always been a pro-choice woman. I was on the board of Planned Parenthood in the nineties and I still maintain that affiliation. I have always been pro-gun control. The Republican Party, I knew had left me a while ago, but I still thought that I could try to work to change it from within and we know how that turned out. It didn’t. As a part of my husband’s service on the federal level, I was able to meet the federal leaders. And what I saw was that true willingness to be the big tent party and not only willingness but they actually put action behind their words. They are truly the big tent party who allows people from all different ideologies as long as they stick to a general core of tenants that the Democratic Party believes in that they welcome everybody and so that’s when I knew that I had come home. Now part of the criticism my primary primary challenger will level at me is that I’m a relatively new Democrat and I understand that. In my experience in the world, whether its political party or religion or anything else, it always seems like converts are the biggest believers because we made that conscious decision and not to take anything from those from which it was family tradition or anything else, but I made that conscious decision as an adult to say, ‘This is where I want to be. This is where I feel like I’m home.” 

Seth: So, you appreciated the aspect of it being a big tent party. I’m curious if you feel like there are any core tenants of the Democratic Party that should prohibit somebody from joining or being a member of the party if they don’t pass that litmus test. Specifically, what I’m thinking of, you’ve always were pro-choice you said. Do you think somebody who is pro-life should be able to run as a Democrat and be a member of the party?
Ashford: Yes. I do think that they should be able to run as a Democrat. I think they’re going to have a tougher road to hoe. But yes. A part of being welcoming to all, is not putting those litmus tests on people and I think that that actually hurts. There’s a heck of a lot of, if you just look at it culturally, there’s a heck of a lot of people who grew up in the Irish Catholic tradition who are pro-life. And who are staunch Democrats and yeah, we shouldn’t say, ‘No you can’t be a Democrat because you’re not’.

Seth: So, without those litmus tests or the policies that you have to agree with to be a member of the party, what do you envision as being the thing that brings Democrats together and allows them to unify under one label. 
Ashford: I think that the number one thing that brings Democrats together is their willingness to listen to all diverse opinions and try to do the right thing for people. Whether it’s ensuring that the economy works for everybody, the education system works for everybody, that it’s more focused on making sure that those opportunities are there for all of us and to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep those opportunities going. 

Seth: Okay. And so, I’m going to transition a little bit to specific issues that have been coming up among members of the House of Representatives. Specifically, I’m interested in something that doesn’t really fall along that moderate, progressive ideology line. I’m curious where you stand on the idea of more structural changes to the way that our government works. Specifically, I’m thinking getting rid of the Electoral College into a popular vote which is something which would require a vote in the House of Representatives, adding Supreme Court seats, statehood for Puerto Rico and D.C. And one that obviously isn’t in the House of Representatives but I think is important and interesting to talk about is the Filibuster. So, we can go through those one by one if you have ideas about them all. 
Ashford: Sure. 

Seth: So, the Electoral College?
Ashford: So, the Electoral College, the number one challenge to getting rid of it that I hear that it will hurt rural states like we are with a much lesser population. So, I’m really concerned about that. I understand, boy do I understand the desire to get rid of the electoral college. I don’t think we’ve hit upon a solution yet. I think probably the solution is going to be somewhere between the Electoral College as it is today and the popular vote. But I think we’re going to have to go through a little bit more pain before we get to that. So, I’m not ready to say get rid of the Electoral College wholly today because of all of us districts out here in the middle of the country where we don’t have as much population across our state. So, I’m still waiting. I like the way that Nebraska and Maine do it where we attribute the Electoral College votes by Congressional District. perhaps that’s a way to get there sooner rather than switching massively to the entire just popular vote. 
Seth: So, it sounds like you’re not ready to make the full commitment to be in favor of the popular vote but you’re open to other maybe more incremental changes to the system. 
Ashford: Right. And personally, I like the idea of the popular vote. I get that. But again, I’m concerned for my state and states like us where we might be hurt. But let’s look at perhaps how we attribute those Electoral College votes. 

Seth: This is an interesting theoretical question I’m curious how you see the job of being a Representative. Do you see it as you will be sent to Washington to represent the views of your constituents even if they go against what you personally believe, or do you believe that the voters send you to Washington to make decisions based on your personal ideology? Where do you fall on that theoretical debate? 
Ashford: Somewhere in the middle but closer to the fact that you are representing. It’s in the title for goodness sake. We’re being sent as a representative so you better darn well be listening to your constituents. I haven’t seen a situation where the district as a whole would be taking such a viewpoint where it would cross my moral judgements. Obviously, people need to know me well enough and to trust me well enough that my moral judgement will come in play if we haven’t encountered for example an issue in the district so far and it’s a brand-new issue. Because you can’t poll everything you can’t go out and ask people everything. But I would lean toward that you are sent there to represent the thoughts, the mindsets, the opinions, the beliefs of your district. 

Seth: I imagine you believe it would be difficult to do that if the Democrats nominated a candidate who is much further left to the general population of the district. So, it seems like you feel like your ideology aligns better with the district and is the more practical way to get elected. 
Ashford: Right. 

Seth: Okay so moving on to statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. How do you feel about that or how do you think you’d vote on that if it were to come up in your term? 
Ashford: If I were going to vote on it, I would vote yes. 

Seth: And how about adding seats to the Supreme Court if Democrats were to win the presidential election and were somehow to be able to take over the Senate. How do you feel about adding seats to the Supreme Court?
Ashford: To the number of people in the Supreme Court? 
Seth: Yes. 
Ashford: I have to tell you I haven’t really thought about that. 
Seth: I’m totally sympathetic to that. I think it should be okay for candidates to say ‘I need more time to think.’
Ashford: Yeah, and I would have to think about that. My initial reaction would be no. You need to play the cards you’re dealt. But I don’t know. I haven’t given that any thought. 
Seth: Well when you think about it more, I’ll follow you to see if you come to a decision on that or if it’s asked later in the primary. I’ll be following your responses. 
Ashford: So, is this talked about much?
Seth: Yeah it is. Especially in the big Democratic presidential primary field it’s come up a lot. Some of the more progressive candidates have advocated in favor of it. And I know Pete Buttigieg had an idea where you’d expand the seats of the Supreme Court not necessarily by court packing, by saying ‘we’re just going to add people to the Supreme Court’, but by saying we’re going to add temporary judges that are both conservative and liberal and then they will have to decide together and it will have to be a unanimous decision for the additional justices that will be added to the Supreme Court. So, there’s been different iterations of it. 
Ashford: Now, that’s fascinating. 
Seth: Yeah, it’s an interesting argument but I think it’s sometimes easy to portray all the ideas from saying ‘we’re going to add justices to the Supreme Court whether you like it or not’ to the more moderate route of saying “we’re going to try to add seats with the parties together so it’s not a strictly partisan journey.” 
Ashford: Yeah and as an individual, not as a candidate, as an individual I’ve always been concerned that you could pack the court if you have a number of resignations or death or retirement during one term and it could make you, depending on who was president and who was in the Senate it could make you really happy or really unhappy. It is something to think about. Like I said, I just haven’t thought about it before this. 

Seth: And so, the last structural issue is something that’s actually related to adding Supreme Court seats. It’s eliminating the Filibuster in the Senate because right now the threshold for passing a lot of legislation is 60 votes, but many Democrats have been advocating in favor of lowering that to having to have a majority to pass legislation in the Senate. Obviously, this isn’t something the House of Representatives would vote on, but I’m curious if you have an opinion on that. 
Ashford: Right. So, I prefer, as an individual, just a majority. I think either party, whoever is not in control of the Senate needs to be really careful of those rules that they put in place to see what could happen when they are in control and I just think that the unintended consequences of any actions need to be thoroughly investigated prior to them making any changes. 

Seth: Another thing that’s been spoken a lot about since the Mueller report came out was impeachment. Are you in favor of the party holding impeachment hearings or do you think that they should wait for the 2020 election and let voters decide if the president deserves to stay in office?
Ashford: So, neither. I’m in favor of them conducting a thorough investigation and subpoenaing all of the individuals that they need to, to obtain more information about issues raised in the Mueller Report and then making the decision whether or not impeachment needs to occur. The one thing that concerns me is talk that impeachment distracting people from actually getting their jobs done because that has to happen contemporaneously with addressing immigration, with addressing healthcare, with addressing infrastructure and, if we go back to the beginning and I apologize, I just mentioned one of my top issues, is infrastructure. And first of all, we need a lot of remediation across this country and then there’s some new infrastructure that needs to be built as well. So, we need to concentrate on those issues. That’s where the primary focus needs to be while in the background these further investigations need to be going on whether it’s through subpoenas or otherwise, to ensure that we have a president that should be legally allowed to be kept in office.  

Seth: When you look at the numbers, I think, of the priorities for Democratic Party members, Russia and the Mueller Report were low single digits. So, I think it makes sense that you advocate in favor of focusing on other issues rather than focusing on that, if those numbers are correct. So, one thing that I think is interesting in Nebraska is that the State Democratic Party decided that for the presidential candidate they are going to change the way that they apportion their votes from a caucus to a primary. Is that correct?
Ashford: Yes. 

Seth: Do you think that that will have any impact on the voters that come out to vote in your primary and do you think that will affect the results of the Democratic Primary in Nebraska Second?
Ashford: I’m not sure if it’s going to affect the results because we always had a primary along with that. And so, the caucus, it will probably help it because very few people, relatively speaking, attended the caucuses. And then those who attended the caucuses maybe didn’t feel the need to vote in the primary and so hopefully that gets everybody at the table in the primary. Our primary is relatively late in the process. We’re in May and so a lot of times the leading contender for the party is pretty much chosen by that time. So that gets people feeling a little frustrated. But it was the same with the caucus too. The last election in 2016, I just saw a lot of heartache because during the caucus process there were, like I said, a fewer number of people who turned out that it seems as though the caucuses felt as though they were pretty well united behind Bernie Sanders whereas in the primary vote it clearly went to Hillary Clinton. And so hopefully this will help us heal a little bit and have one tool for us to choose that presidential candidate that we can all get behind. 

Seth: And is there a candidate, it’s a huge field, but are there candidates or is there one candidate that you see yourself aligning with or supporting?
Ashford: There are a number of candidates that I really like and that’s the difficulty right now. And my only concern is that with, I love that so many candidates are in the race, but by the same token the last time around the Democrats couldn’t really get it together between only two candidates, so how are we going to coalesce behind one. Have we learned that lesson well enough to be able to really support that one who ends up being the nominee? But I love hearing the ideas of the people. Of course, Vice President Biden is one of my favorite people. It’ll be interesting to see, and I think he should choose soon, sooner rather than later, for other reasons, because of his age, he needs to choose or at least indicate who he would choose as a vice presidential running mate because that’ll be a concern people have in their heads. I love Pete Buttigieg. I am intrigued by people like Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris. If I start to name them, I’m going to exclude someone. I don’t mean to exclude anybody and say that, gosh I’m not interested in them or impressed by them. But there are a number of candidates that I really enjoy watching. 
Seth: I understand not wanting to list candidates, because if you list seven and forget the eighth people will say ‘Why didn’t you name them?’ But it does sound like the broad field that you’re in support of are the less stridently progressive, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and more the moderate wing of the party.  
Ashford: Yeah. I’m a centrist. I’m a centrist so those people attract me more. 

Seth: You spoke about, in the presidential election, maybe having some difficulties coalescing behind one candidate. Do you see that that could possibly be a challenge if you were to win the primary election in your district, that maybe some of those more further left voters would have a hard time getting behind you? 
Ashford: Sure. Sure. I mean that’s always going to be a concern. Are they going to then stay home because they were frustrated that their candidate didn’t make it through? And I’m talking about the presidential level candidate. That’s always going to be a concern and it’s just going to take reaching out to them and re-emphasizing that message again and again and again. You’ve got to be able to win whether it is, a win for the ultimate Democratic candidate is a win for all of us. So, if you stay home, nursing your wounds, you’re going to reelect the Republican President or our current Representative. So, we need to get out there and do something.  

Seth: When you think about the current Representative, Don Bacon, are there any specific issues that he’s taken a vote on or specific policies that he supports that you’re planning on, if you make it to the general election, really running against him on and highlighting?
Ashford: Yeah, yeah. His votes on health care, especially in his first term, are simply ridiculous. To gut and try and get rid of any protection that the ACA has given us without a reasonable alternative that makes it better for all of us. His vote against the Violence Against Women Act and somehow trying to justify that it might shut down shelters who are religious based. It just doesn’t make any sense. His vote for the tax plan, and I blame the entire party for this, and not taking into account the fact that there are unintended consequences. We always have to look towards those. And forgetting that the Gold Star families who Representative Bacon holds himself up as being their biggest supporter, well now their hurt in the payments that they receive and are taxed a higher level for those payments. The record setting deficit and debt that this tax plan brought into place. His seeming support of the president when he puts into place tariffs and things like that. Tariffs, we just had historic flooding in Nebraska, and Iowa and Missouri, but in Nebraska that is just awful and horrific and these farmers who were already under the gun because of the tariffs and low crop prices now, I don’t know how some of them are going to make it, the farmers and ranchers. And so, all of these things together it’s just not helping the district. He’s a nice man, but he’s just not doing anything to help this district. 

Seth: I want to dig into just one of those. You said your priority is healthcare, one of your priorities is health care. It’s the first one you listed. What would you say the first three things or two things, the very first things that Democrats should do to improve health care coverage in the country? What would your priorities specifically with health care be? 
Ashford: To improve coverage, I would make Medicare a public option. And so, on the marketplace, the same way you could choose among Aetna, United, Blue Cross, whoever it is, Medicare would be right there too and so you could choose that, whether you’re employed or getting it on your own. To improve cost issues, I would do two things with pharmaceutical companies. First of all, I always find it amusing to say give Medicare the ability to negotiate pricing with pharmaceutical companies the same way that they do with hospitals and physicians. Coming from that arena, they don’t negotiate with hospitals and physicians, they tell them what they’re going to get paid. And so, they need to do that with the pharmaceutical companies. You tell them what you’re going to get paid. And then, the private insurance companies, the commercial insurance companies, take their lead form Medicare. That’s how they base all of their practices and pricing. So, once we can get that done with Medicare, it would bleed naturally into the commercial market. The other thing with pharmaceutical companies, I would drastically limit the type of advertising they can do direct to consumers, whether it’s over the public airways or over the internet. So, there’s three kinds of advertising and I know I’m getting too much into the weeds for you, but the third kind of advertising is the only one that’s allowed in this country and New Zealand. We’re the only ones who allow it. And that’s where the pharmaceutical company is allowed to talk about a disease state and symptoms of a disease state and then talk about a specific medication to address that disease state. What other countries do, if they allow anything at all, they allow one of two things. You can either, as a pharmaceutical company, talk about a disease state and say, ‘If you have these symptoms, you might have this disease state and you should go see your physician for the appropriate treatment”. Or the other one is, you can name a class of drugs, say statins, and say, ‘Statins are out there’ but no specific brand name, “Statins are out there to address this kind of disease state. And you should see your doctor to see if you need a statin.” So, I would drastically eliminate that. I think if I remember right, the number is 6.7 billion, and I may be wrong in that, in 2017 was spent by pharmaceutical companies on that kind of advertising. It’s absolutely ridiculous. What it does, I’ve spent the last 10 years working with physicians. And so, what you have is patients coming into the office saying “Doc, I think I have restless leg syndrome and I need the medication to go with it” and naming the specific medication. So first of all, it forces the physician to have to give unnecessary tests in concentrating on, perhaps, ruling out restless leg syndrome, where they may have a condition but it’s not that. Secondly, let’s assume that they pass these tests and there is restless leg syndrome, then trying to convince the patient, again spending this time and effort convincing the patient that, perhaps medication isn’t the first course of treatment. Perhaps just diet and lifestyle changes or exercise and lifestyle changes. And let’s attack those first. Or, in the alternative, if it is a medication that’s necessary, it could be perhaps a generic or something that’s been on the market for a longer time instead of this medication that they spent billions of dollars to advertise. So, all of those things go into increasing our healthcare costs tremendously and we need to put some limits on them now. So those are the first three things I would do.

Seth: It sounds like you have a distinct plan and specific steps that you want to take and I’m always curious if the candidates who are maybe more progressive and have the idea of a single payer system would be willing to take these more incrementalist approaches or votes if they were to come up in the House of Representatives or if they would vote no because it’s not going all the way and it’s not far enough. 
Ashford: I can’t answer for them. I would hope that they would vote for the incremental approach if that’s what came up and that’s what could be passed. I don’t see that the Medicare for All is something that’s feasible in today’s political world so, why are we going to waste time on it? My husband’s on Medicare, I also think that people don’t understand that there are still costs involved. So, he pays a monthly premium. He has deductibles and copays. We pay for a supplemental policy to make sure that more is covered. So, there’s a premium to do with that. He has to pay for a Part D for prescription drugs and so it’s not something where it’s just free. And I’m not an apologist for insurance companies by any means, but people always seem to think that the insurance companies are these big bad ugly beings because they have second opinions required or preauthorization. You know where they got those ideas? From Medicare. Medicare put them in place and then they said, ‘Oh gosh that’s something we can use in our commercial world too.’ And so that’s why they have those in place. So, it’s not as though Medicare is this lovely entity that just says “Anything you want anytime. We’re good”. It’s complicated and it’s hard and it should be out there for people who want to buy it as a public option, but it’s not yet at the place where people seem to think “Gosh, it means everything will be covered and I won’t have to come up with any extra money.” 

Seth: Well the idea of lowering the overall cost of healthcare in the United States kind of goes hand in hand with the idea of cost sharing like is in place in Medicare right now. I mean if people know they’re going to be charged a little bit they might be more reluctant to go to the doctor or hesitant to go in for that checkup. So, do you think that that cost sharing is something that should be present in Medicare?
Ashford: So, there’s some cost sharing that makes sense and some that doesn’t. For instance, one of the things that the ACA did for us is it made sure that everybody has the opportunity to go and get preventative health care every single year with no extra cost to themselves. That needs to stay in place because we need people going to their physicians or health care providers to make sure that they are keeping up with their health care. And then there needs to be some kind of cost sharing in effect, but it often needs to be means based too. I worked with providers every single day, who they don’t ask the patient “can you pay?” when they come in the door. They take them and then there’s backroom people trying to figure out how they can get payment for those services afterwards. But the health care providers, as a rule, just take them period.

Seth: I know you are busy and you probably have something to go do. So, I have a few more questions. I’ll ask them all right now and you can go through them in whatever order you like. One question I always like to ask is, is there any issue that you don’t agree with that is in the Democratic Party’s orthodoxy, that you feel like you are, not out of step, but not in line directly with the Democratic Party? And then another question I have is if you have a planned date to have a platform or issues on your website. And the last question is if you have any questions of me before we stop talking and hang up. 
Ashford: Okay. So as far as the national Democratic Party and any place where I feel uncomfortable being a Democrat. That’s how I took that. Not that I can think of. Not that I can think of. If there is one out there, I just haven’t encountered it yet. And for dates on the platform, we’re targeting the beginning of June for a formal kickoff and I plan on having position papers out around that same time. And then requests of you, I’d love to see what you’re writing before it’s published, not to make any changes because that’s absolutely within your purview to write however you wish, but I would be curious. 

Seth: Well my goal is to give the least filtered version of the candidate so generally I transcribe the interview directly and I put that up. And your communications director, Luke, asked me if I could send the transcript your way so you could look it over before I post it and I’m happy to do that. 
Ashford: Great, thanks! And the only other thing is: way at the beginning, when you asked me my primary issues, infrastructure was one that I had forgotten and added later. 
Seth: Okay, I’ll make sure to get that in there. I really do appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
Ashford: Absolutely, this is fun. It’s always good to think about the issues and have someone question you. So, it was very helpful to me.

Seth: Is this the first interview that you’ve done this cycle?
Ashford: It is not. I did a radio interview and then I’ve done a couple newspapers. 
Seth: Okay well I searched around but sometimes it’s hard to find those things, so I’ll dig in a little bit more to try and find those. Okay, have a good day and I hope your husband is okay. 
Ashford: Thank you. He will be. 

Seth: Okay goodbye. 
Ashford: Take care. 

2020 BATTLEGROUNDS: NEBRASKA 2ND

This is the third post in “2020 Battlegrounds”, where I take a deep look at one closely contested 2020 House district. Each post will: 1) Give an overview of the State and District 2) Analyze recent electoral history 3) Give an update on the district’s 2020 race and 4) See what insight the district can give into larger 2020 House race. 

District: Nebraska 2nd
Current Representative: Don Bacon
Cook 2020 Projection: Leans Republican
Sabato 2020 Projection: Toss Up 

OVERVIEW OF STATE & DISTRICT
Nebraska — crimson red and socially conservative — will host one of the most competitive elections for the 2020 House. Squeezed onto its eastern border is the second congressional district, Nebraska Democrats’ only real shot at federal representation.

Because Nebraska splits its presidential electoral votes by congressional district (one of only two states, along with Maine, to do so), the second district is often a target of presidential campaigns. Barack Obama’s campaign manager said Omaha was his “personal favorite target”. In a close presidential election, this one electoral vote could be the tiebreaker — pushing one candidate from 269 electoral college votes to the 270 needed to win. Obama is the only presidential candidate to successfully isolate one of the Nebraska’s electoral votes since the state adopted the Congressional District Method in 1992. In fact, this is the only electoral vote any Democrat has received from Nebraska since Lyndon Johnson carried the state in his 486-52 electoral blowout in 1962. Before that it was FDR in 1936.

Today, the governor and entire federal delegation are Republican. Of the current executive office holders, only one, the District 2 Public Service Commissioner, ran as a Democrat. Nebraska Democrats know that most of the state is out of reach. If they are to win federal representation, their hope is in district two.

The district is centered around Omaha and comprises all of Douglas County and a portion of Sarpy County. Obama’s 2008 victory spurred a Republican redistricting (or gerrymander) of the second district in 2011. They replaced the more liberal city of Bellevue and the Offutt Air Force Base in eastern Sarpy with the more rural, conservative suburbs of western Sarpy. And while this partisan redistricting did help them hold onto the congressional seat in 2010, 2012, 2016 and 2018, there was a lapse in 2014 when Democrat Brad Ashford ousted Republican Terry Lee. A more ruthless Republican party could have gerrymandered the district to give themselves a 96% chance of victory, but that would likely have been struck down in court.

Democrats know it’s going to be a battle if they want to take the district from Republicans. A former director for the state Democratic Party explained the party dynamic in Nebraska to Politico: “Republicans have been very successful in defining Democrats culturally and socially in Nebraska.” “They’ve defined us as snowflakey, that we want to raise taxes and redistribute wealth.”

Demographics
Data: Daily Kos

Eighty two percent of Nebraska’s Second District’s residents are white, compared to 70% of the country. This translates to small black (9%) and Latino (5%) populations, two core demographic groups for the Democratic Party. The district is also well educated — 39% have bachelors compared with 31% of the country. And the district’s high density reflects that it is centered around Omaha City. White, suburban and well educated — NE-02 looks like the districts that has been trending blue and were crucial to Democrats flipping the House in 2018.

RECENT ELECTORAL HISTORY

Presidency

House

Data: Daily Kos

 

Obama carried the district in 2008 by 1.2%, but Romney flipped it in 2012 with a healthy 7.1% margin. The district swung back about 5% in 2012, with Trump only carrying it by 2.2%. Like many suburban, educated districts, NE-02 voters liked Romney in 2012 but swung away from the Trump’s rhetoric and disposition in 2016. And while this swing may not have been enough to tip the district to Democrats, it brought them within about 2%.

The trend is different, though, when looking at House results. While the races have been consistently tight, there is no obvious trend toward one party. In 2014, moderate Democrat Brad Ashford won the district by 3.3% with the district voting 9% more Democratic than the nation overall (measured by the House Popular Vote). Ashford lost the next year to Republican Don Bacon as the district voted in line with the country — favoring the Republican by about 1%. In 2018, Don Bacon won re-election by 2% over proud progressive Kara Eastman — with NE-02 voting 11% more Republican than the nation as a whole.  

What Happened in 2018
Heading into the 2018 midterms, incumbent Republican Don Bacon did not face a primary challenger. Meanwhile, in the Democratic Primary, Kara Eastman and Brad Ashford were running one of the most contentious primaries in the nation.

Eastman, the founder of a local nonprofit and political unknown before the election cycle, ran as (to employ the overused but useful term) an unapologetic progressive. Her platform echoed that of the Bernie Sanders campaign — Medicare for All, free public college for families making under $125,000, a $15 federal minimum wage. Her theory of how to flip the district: turn out the Democratic base and low propensity voters. People do not cross party lines, so don’t waste time and money reaching out to moderate Republicans.

Brad Ashford was the Democratic establishment’s man. He represented the district from 2015 to 2016, but lost the 2016 election against Donald (Don) Bacon. The Party thought that he could appeal to and swing moderate Republicans and independents. Back in his days in the Nebraska Legislature where he served from 1987 to 1995 and 2007 to 2015, he, in fact, was a Republican. He flipped to the Democratic Party in 2010 and then registered as an Independent in 2013. Unlike Eastman, he said Medicare for All was politically infeasible, instead supporting incremental steps like a public option to buy into Medicare. He did not want to fully repeal the Republican tax bill, wanted to slowly raise the minimum wage, reaching $15 by 2026 and highlighted his “ability to find solutions…consensus building instead of partisan politics.”  

The primary was a contest between two wings of the party: the moderate, bipartisan, reach across the aisle, incrementalist wing and the progressive, appeal to the base, big idea, practicality out the window wing.   

Perhaps unsurprisingly (but maddeningly for some), the Democratic Party’s committee to elect House members, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), weighed in on Ashford’s behalf. Eastman says that after weeks of the DCCC telling here they were unlikely to intervene, the committee put Ashford on its Red to Blue program. The program signals to donors who to give to and is a de-facto endorsement. Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg (then mayor of South Bend, Indiana) supported and fundraised for Ashford. He implied that Eastman was not electable, saying “If you’re a committed progressive, you want to support the most committed progressive who can win”. Meanwhile, the state party and Douglas County Democratic Parties remained officially neutral, scuffled about under the table support for Ashford and a contentious debate over party officials endorsing candidates. 

But while tension grew, it never spilled over into visible animosity between Ashford and Eastman. The primary race was focused more on policy and leadership style. Neither candidate drafted negative ads or hit the opposition too hard. The most contentious part of their debates centered on their different vision for healthcare.

As of the March 31, the last filing deadline before the May 15 primary, Ashford had outraised Eastman $535,000 to $320,000. Nobody really expected that Eastman had much of a shot — on election day, the betting website PredictIt had Ashford as a 90% favorite. But, in an election night that shocked media and election watchers across the nation, Eastman defeated Ashford by about 3%.

Progressives celebrated; strategic Democrats grumbled; Republicans cheered;. Election forecasting site, Sabato’s Crystal Ball wrote “the NRCC got what it wanted and the DCCC didn’t.” The Crystal Ball changed NE-02’s rating from “Toss Up” to “Leans Republican”, apparently agreeing with the committees that Eastman was a less formidable challenger than Ashford.

Eastman received a call from Senator Bernie Sanders the night of her primary victory, helping solidify the narrative that she’s in the Sander’s wing of the party. But the party establishment came around, as did Brad Ashford, giving her their endorsements and placing her on the “Red to Blue list.  

The general campaign was, to put it bluntly, less exciting than the Democratic primary. Eastman continued to broadcast her progressive message and Don Bacon ran as a typical Republican. He emphasized tax cuts and his fight against ‘government takeover of healthcare’, he opposed abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger and, according to FiveThirtyEight, had voted in line with Trump 98% of the time. He argued that Eastman was too extreme for Nebraska’s Second District, saying “These views would work well in San Francisco or New York City but not Omaha.”

Bacon received much more support from the Republican establishment than Eastman did from Democrats. The Congressional Leadership Fund (A Super PAC affiliated with previous Speaker of the House Paul Ryan) spent $1,397,000 on the race, mostly on ads attacking Eastman and the ‘liberal elite. A particularly…um…interesting ad attacked her for studying to be a sex therapist and her college band “Pieces of Fuck”: “While Eastman was dropping F-bombs, Don Bacon was serving in the air force.” Meanwhile, the House Majority PAC (Nancy Pelosi’s PAC) invested $0 and the DCCC contributed $90,000 to a media buy, a paltry sum compared to Republicans nearly $1.5 million. But there was still plenty of money to go around — Eastman pulled $2.6 million, out-raising Bacon by about $10,000. An impressive feat for a first-time candidate in a competitive race against an incumbent.

In the end, though, it was not enough. Going into the election, FiveThirtyEight gave Bacon a 4/7 and Eastman a 3/7 shot at winning the election. Bacon prevailed with a slim 2% margin, defeating Eastman 51% to 49%.

It’s impossible to know if a different, less polarizing candidate could have tipped the scale in Democrats favor. But that’s what election analyst Nathaniel Rakich argued the day after Eastman won the primary, writing that “Ashford would have probably bought Democrats a few extra percentage points” and that “There’s plenty of evidence that candidates closer to the ideological poles do worse than moderate ones.” But Eastman’s team would likely contest this, pointing out that some more gung-ho support from the Democratic establishment could have closed the 2% gap.

2018 Data

Data: NYTimes

Turnout was high for a midterm year, dropping only about 11% from the 2016 presidential race. Eastman was likely correct in her assessment that the Democratic base would turn out. The problem for her, though, is that the Republican base turned out too.

If Eastman’s theory that an unabashed progressive would improve Democratic turnout more than Republican’s, her numbers would have improved more in Douglas Country than in Sarpy County, given that the pool of Democrats is larger in the former. This didn’t happen. Bacon improved upon his 2016 margins in both the more Democratic Douglas County and the more Republican Sarpy County — closing the Democratic lead in Douglas from 3.8% to 3% and widening the Republican advantage in Sarpy from 25.1% to 26%.

Gubernatorial results in Douglas County also run against Eastman’s theory. The Democratic candidate, Bob Krist, campaigned as a moderate focused on bipartisan issues. He won Douglas with 108,235 votes to his opponent’s 96,120 — a margin of 6%. His vote total was about 3,000 greater than Eastman’s and his margin was about 3% wider. It looks like about 3,000 voters in Douglas County voted for Krist and not for Eastman. Perhaps a more moderate candidate like Brad Ashford could have won over these voters and closed the gap.  

 Finally, relative to the National House Popular Vote, 2018 was a particularly bad year for NE-02 Democrats. The district voted 10.6% more Republican than the nation. Compare this to 0.4% more Republican in 2016, 9% more Democratic in 2014 and 2.8% more Republican in 2012. 2018 featured a heavy swing toward the Republican relative to the national environment. It could have been Eastman’s style; it could have been national Democratic antipathy; it could have been baked in by partisanship. We’ll never know for sure, but the upcoming 2020 race will be illuminating.

2020 UPDATE
The 2020 primary will again feature Eastman and Ashford. This time, though, Eastman’s opponent is Ann Ashford, a local “attorney, human resources professional, and healthcare leader” and the wife of Brad Ashford. Like her husband, Ms. Ashford is a recent convert to the Democratic party, making the switch in 2016 because “they truly became the big tent party”. Though her website doesn’t have a policy platform, it looks like she will be running as a moderate, telling The Omaha World Herald, “I think that today’s environment has become so splintered because everybody says, ‘I’m going to fight,’ and I don’t understand that.” “If we continue to fight, we’re going to see the same non-results that we see today.”

If she does run as a consensus seeking moderate, the race may have a similar dynamic to that of 2018. Democratic primary voters will again have to decide which candidate best represents their values and which has a better chance of winning the general. And, if these are in conflict, which priority outweighs the other. In 2018 primary voters voted against the national party’s practicality, but Eastman’s 2018 loss may have changed the calculus for some voters.

Another possible boost for Ashford is the state Democratic Party’s decision to switch from a presidential caucus system to a primary. Presidential primaries draw out a more moderate constituency than caucuses, as only the most invested voters (who are often the most partisan) show up for an hours long caucus. And as these primary voters would also be voting on down ballot races, notably NE-02. This more moderate voting pool could tip Ashford over the edge in a close primary.

Incumbent Don Bacon has also filed for re-election and, as of now, does not face a primary challenge. That means that while Democrats are tussling and spending their money in the primary, Representative Bacon will be stockpiling his cash. If the Democratic primary is expensive and contentious, Bacon will enter the general election with a bruised opponent and a full bank account.

The first quarter fundraising numbers, which report fundraising through March 31, look best for Bacon. He raised $371,000 and has $296,000 Cash on Hand. Eastman raised only $40,000 and has $72,000 cash on hand. Ann Ashford raised $36,000 with $24,000 cash on hand. Fundraising is only one sign of support and its importance is generally overstated, but the Democratic numbers don’t show either candidate pulling away or point to much voter enthusiasm.  Below is a chart comparing NE-02 fundraising to the rest of the 2020 battleground districts.

Data: FEC

The national parties both have their eyes on NE-02. The DCCC named it among its top targets for 2019-2020” and the NRCC put it on its “Patriot Program”, indicating that both parties will likely be giving their candidate significant support come the general election.  The NRCC has already started going after Bacon’s possible opponents, attacking Eastman for supporting “AOC’s cow ban” and calling Ashford’s fundraising haul a “LOL-inducing 36k”.  

This trollish behavior indicates that the NRCC knows Representative Bacon is in danger. But they may be getting ahead of themselves. Before the general, there is a year’s worth of Democratic primary that will be another insightful peek into the Democratic Party — exposing the Party’s priorities, divisions and the message it will deliver to 2020 voters.  

LESSONS FOR THE 2020 HOUSE

The Party Still (Usually) Decides
Of the 41 Congressional primary candidates the DCCC endorsed in 2018, only 2 lost their primaries — a success rate of 95%. Compare this to two prominent progressive groups, Our Revolution and Justice Democrats, who had primary success rates of 37% and 31%, respectively. The DCCC’s candidates also had a much better track record in general elections, winning 46% compared to Our Revolution’s 14% and Justice Democrats’ 5% success rates. Notably, the two Congressional candidates — Kara Eastman from NE-02 and Dana Balter from NY-24 — who snuck by the DCCC in the primaries both lost their general election. The big caveat here is that the DCCC usually endorses the strongest candidate in the field while Our Revolution and Justice Democrats are more likely to endorse candidates who align with their policy objectives even if their path to victory looks more challenging.

Demographics Are Not Always Destiny
NE-02 is a wealthy, suburban, white community. It looks like the archetypal district that has been steadily trending blue in recent years. But recent elections show that NE-02 has bounced around, not showing a clear drift towards either party. Maybe that’s because Eastman was too liberal, maybe it’s because Bacon is especially popular, maybe Trump is popular in the district. No matter the reason, it’s safe to say that just because a district’s demographics look like it should be trending towards one party does not mean it always will.

Structural Changes Deserve Attention
Nebraska Democrats’ decision to change the Presidential nomination process from a caucus to a primary could determine close down ballot elections. Other upcoming structural changes like the upcoming census and corresponding redistricting will change how the 435 House seats are apportioned among the 50 states and how they are divided within those states. States with a growing population (California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Texas)  will likely gain seats while states with a shrinking or stagnant population (Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia) may lose seats. These changes will alter both the composition of the House of Representatives and the distribution of Electoral College votes and deserve more attention.