In Nebraska’s largest Congressional District, economic worries are at the center of the midterm election discussion
By Aaron Bonderson , Report for America Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
Nov. 1, 2022, 5 a.m. ·
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Republican Adrian Smith is running for his ninth straight term in office. In Nebraska’s 3rd Congressional District, Smith has been popular with voters in past elections. That hasn’t stopped David Else from challenging him this cycle.
Else, who is running as a Democrat, raises cows and calves and grows corn, soybeans and alfalfa on his farm outside of Overton. Else is challenging Smith in the 3rd District, which includes the vast majority of Nebraska’s counties in all corners of the state.
He gained political support among farmers by frequently calling into Gov. Pete Ricketts’ radio show. Else was outspoken against former President Donald Trump’s trade policies. He jumped at the opportunity to run for Congress. A former Republican, Else originally wanted to run as an independent before the Democratic Party offered him an endorsement to run on their ticket.
One of the important issues for Else’s campaign is health care. His family endured a whirlwind of medical hardships. One of his children lives with Spina Bifita, a birth defect that affects the spine. Another child has Cri-du-chat syndrome, an intellectual disability. His wife survived a three-month coma with lasting effects.
All this made Else realize the importance of the Affordable Care Act. However, he wants to change parts of the bill.
“I want to continue with the Affordable Care Act, but I want to make it simpler, so that you don’t have to sign up every year,” Else said. “You only have a short time to sign up. I think it should just be like an insurance company that you can get it whenever you want.”
He also said that lower deductibles and adding dental insurance would improve the program.
Another important issue for everyone in this election is the agricultural economy. Else said small meatpackers in Nebraska need support to compete with the large, corporate ones. He believes four big packers control too much of the market.
“We need more diversity there, because they control the meat prices on this end – to the farmers, and the meat prices in the stores, while they’re all making record profits,” Else said.
In Valentine, bogged-down supply chains and skyrocketing inflation concern local officials the most. Kyle Arganbright, city council president, said the cost of doing business builds pressure on the local economy.
“It's hurting our people, especially when you get out into rural areas where every product has more transport costs attached to it,” Arganbright said. “So, controlling federal spending, balancing the budget, addressing our debt – those are major issues that trickle down to Main Street, USA.”
Arganbright also said federal regulations slow down the economy.
Eight-term Incumbent Adrian Smith agrees that regulations from federal entities cause too much delay. He also said more responsible federal spending would help with the supply chain and economic struggles in Nebraska.
“We need to change our spending, reduce spending, and make sure that taxpayer dollars are more wisely spent,” Smith said.
Smith may have the ability to influence those changes. If the GOP takes control of the House, Smith plans to run for chair of the Ways and Means Committee, which creates policy on revenue, trade, and social programs.
In far northeast Nebraska, the people of South Sioux City are looking for economic solutions, too. The town is a part of a tri-state metro area, which presents economic opportunities. However, Mayor Rod Koch said housing is a barrier to workforce expansion.
“The number of houses in South Sioux City for sale is critically low,” Koch said. “We feel many people around the community would like to move here. Right now, we just can't get them housed the way we would like to.”
In addition to housing struggles, the town’s electrical and sewer systems need updating. Koch said economic progress is possible in South Sioux City, with more housing and better infrastructure.
Smith voted against the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill passed last year, as did all three Nebraska representatives. Smith said potential infrastructure grants and other aid should be heard on a case-by-case basis.
“America’s a big country, to think that it's a one-size-fits all approach that's just not going to be effective when you look at the difference in needs,” Smith said.
Smith’s locally-focused message likely resonates with the fourth-most, right-leaning district in the nation, according to the 2022 Cook Partisan Voting Index. This has resulted in widespread support for Smith who’s won eight races in a row. As an incumbent, Smith’s closest call was in 2012, when he defeated Mark Sullivan by a whopping 48%.
Another candidate in this election is Mark Elworth Jr. who is running for the Legal Marijuana Now party. In 2020, Elworth Jr. ran for the 3rd District on the Democratic ticket. He received 18 percent of the vote to Smith’s 79 percent. In recent history, he’s also run for a House seat in southwestern Iowa, for Nebraska’s governor as a Libertarian in 2014, for the Unicameral, and for the Omaha City Council.
Smith has raised more than $1.6 million for his campaign. Else and Elworth Jr. haven’t reported any dollars raised, although Else said he’s a little less than $5,000.
On November 8th, the district will decide whether to keep Smith in Washington for his ninth term.