This past week I got the chance to interview Kara Eastman, the Democratic nominee for Nebraska’s 2nd district. Elections Daily has this race at Leans Republican. Below is the full transcribed interview as well as the audio recording of it at the end of the transcript. Thanks to Kara for taking the time to speak with me for this interview.
What inspired you to run for Congress?
Eastman: Well, in 2016 my mother was diagnosed with cancer for the fifth time and prescribed a $2,500 pill that she could not afford to take. It sent me down this pathway of thinking about and talking about healthcare, prescription costs and I’ve worked in non-profits for over 20 years. I’ve talked to a lot of families who were in a situation similar to my mom of having to choose life saving/altering medication and it just felt like we really needed a new system.
In researching and talking to people for the last few years and running for Congress, I’ve just come to see the problem is corporate greed. We could have a better system, we just need the political will to change it.
How has COVID-19 affected how you’ve run your campaign?
Eastman: We’ve always run a very strong grassroots campaigns and in 2018 we knocked on 200,000 doors in our district. Luckily we were able to make a full pass of the district at the doors before the coronavirus hit in March. But I have an incredible team, a amazing field director who immediately reconfigured our campaign so that we were able to use technology to make a lot more phone calls, do a lot more things digitally. It’s been a challenge in someways because I have organizers and canvassers and myself, we love knocking on doors and going to talk to voters.
Actually, it’s been interesting in some ways, having deeper conversations with people on the phone or by zoom meeting. So we feel like it’s been challenging in some ways and in other ways we’ve learned a lot about new ways to do things.
You were able to overwhelmingly win your primary this year after a very narrow win in 2018. What changes, if any, did you make to get that result?
Eastman: We learned a lot in 2018. I think that’s one of the things about doing this is you learn and I feel like we are better at how we strategize, we had data to go off of, my name recognition was higher. All of those things certainly helped, but I think what we’re finding is the message of our campaign, of running as a Democrat who actually wants to get things done for the district, who’s willing to compromise to get things done.
That doesn’t mean compromise my values, it means actually finding solutions to problems with people who might not agree with you on everything. I think those things are really resonating with people. In our outreach, we’ve just expanded our universe. We’ve knocked doors of independents in the beginning, asking them about the things that they cared about the most. Interestingly enough they told us their two biggest priorities are getting Trump out of office and expanding healthcare. We feel like the message of the campaign is just resonating with more and more people.
You lost this same race in 2018, what makes you believe you can get a different result this year?
Eastman: A few things. One, I wouldn’t say it’s the same race. It’s a very different year with Trump actually being on the ballot this time and I think things have changed. The Democratic Party in many ways has expanded to be able to show people Democrats do actually care about the things people are talking about. If I look at my platform, over 90% of Americans agree we need universal background checks for gun sales, over 70% of Democrats believe we need an expanded universal healthcare system, most people agree that others should have a livable wage. Amidst the pandemic, I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me saying, I lost my healthcare because I’ve lost my job and that’s scary and I didn’t realize how coupling those two things could be so dangerous.
I think also when you look at data, I am currently ahead in the polls, the district has recently been upgraded from Lean Republican to Tossup and Biden is ahead in the district. We feel confident, never complacent, but confident we can pull off a win this time.
Your fundraising has continued to be impressive for a Democratic candidate in Nebraska. How much has the support for your campaigns surprised you over these last two years?
Eastman: It’s always really humbling. As you said, we’ve done very well with fundraising. We were one of the top fundraisers in the country this past quarter and I think it just shows people are looking for authentic leadership, for someone to take the lead like that in a red state like Nebraska. Although, we have had Blue Dogs here before, we gave Obama a vote as the second congressional district in 2008, people are looking for someone who’s going to represent them over the needs of the large corporations and the very wealthy. I think the Republican tax bill really soured people on how Republicans treat working class Americans.
Last cycle you did not get DCCC support, this cycle you have. How much help has that support been?
Eastman: To be clear in the last cycle in 2018, I was DCCC “Red to Blue” list. So we did have some support from them. In the end they didn’t end up supporting me as much as other candidates. That has changed and they are 100% behind me this time. We have their full support and frankly they apologized for last time, saying they know if they had helped me I would’ve won. I feel like that’s amazing and we’re just really grateful for their help and support.
There are lots of other groups out there who have been incredible to us as well. Groups like End Citizens United, who actually care about saving democracy. Groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee have been incredible. I’m really grateful for all the help from outside groups that we have and from local groups in and around the district. It’s just very humbling.
You are running a progressive campaign in a district that many see as a swing, if not tilt Republican one. Do you think that your message will render you unable to get those swing voters?
Eastman: I think when we look at the district and let’s look at the data. The Republican advantage in voter registration has shrunk considerably where now it’s about 50/50 and a quarter of the district are registered independents. As I mentioned, we started our campaign this time by knocking the doors of independents and as a result in the primary we saw independents request Democratic ballots for early voting two to one over Republican ones. When we look at the vast majority of elected political positions in the district, the vast majority are Democrats.
This is a very diverse district, we are over 20% Latino, African American, South Sudanese, we have a large refugee population. So the district has changed, the demographics have changed and the fact the district is now rated as a tossup shows that this district isn’t more Republican or more conservative leaning. What we’re finding is people are looking for someone to represent them and that they’re tired of the corporate influence that exists over politicians. They’re tired of a tax bill that wasn’t for them, but was just to give handouts to the very wealthy. They’re worried about the cost of healthcare or drowning in prescription drug costs. I’m really proud to be in that area where I can actually go out and speak to issues that they care about and find that the message is really resonating with people.
Multiple Nebraska Democrats have swung their support to your opponent Don Bacon. Do you have a message to them about them bucking the party to support your opponent?
Eastman: I have been endorsed by dozens of Nebraska Democrats. My opponent was endorsed by someone who ran as a Democrat, he was a Republican then ran as a Democrat for Governor. I would push against the idea he’s been endorsed by a lot and what we’re finding though is the more we go out and talk to people, the more they hear from me and her my message instead of hearing it from the Republican machine that has been attacking me since 2018 and continues to because they are so scared of losing this seat. They do want to support me because they know I’m the best candidate for this district.
On your issues page, you’ve stated you will help to end gerrymandering. What do you think is the best way for Congress to do this or do you think it needs to come down to a state decision on how to end gerrymandering?
Eastman: So this issue of redistricting and the way it is traditionally done, we’ve been impacted by that adversely in our own district when it was gerrymandered in 2010 by the Republicans to serve them. This is something that voters are really frustrated with. They feel like their vote doesn’t count, they feel like whatever political party is in charge sways things to their side. This is where it’s time for politicians to say that this is not a partisan issue, this is a fundamental threat to our democracy and we need to have third party, independent bodies involved in redistricting so that it doesn’t benefit one political party over the other.
Are you concerned about getting gerrymandered out in 2022 if this issue is not solved?
Eastman: Of course. That is an obvious and clear concern. Again, it’s such a shame that politicians have let this issue go so far because it really does undermine American democracy.
In 2018 you said you supported Medicare for All, but you do not explicitly state support for it on your website this cycle. Do you still support a Medicare for All system or have your views on that changed?
Eastman: My views have not changed. As I mentioned I don’t believe in compromising on your values. What I think is really important right now is that Congressman Bacon, my opponent, recently voted against lowering prescription costs. He voted against protecting those with pre-existing conditions and in the middle of a pandemic voted against expanding the affordable care act.
So the voters of our district have a clear choice. They can support somebody who like them supports somebody who wants to expand healthcare. The voters in Nebraska voted to expand Medicaid in 2018. Our Governor is finally now getting around to letting that happen two years laters, which is completely immoral.
But, they have a choice and with my opponent, his first line of action when he got into congress was to say not just that he would vote to repeal he ACA, but that he’s voting “hell yes” to take away he healthcare of millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans. That was the first thing that he decided to do at a time where people are drowning in healthcare costs, people are unable to afford their prescriptions and where we know there’s so much waste in our current healthcare system, administrative waste. There’s a more effective, efficient system out there where the federal government could save money.
The bill that I have been publicly in support of, HR-1384, has been proven to actually save the federal government trillions of dollars over a decade. We right now spend 18% of our GDP on healthcare, we’re projected to spend 24% and that was before the pandemic. We know how many people have lost healthcare because they lost their jobs. People are struggling right now and need a better system. I think we have such a broken healthcare system it’s time to get somebody in this office who actually wants to roll up her sleeves and help fix our healthcare system.
What do you think America needs to do to rebuild the economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Eastman: First, I think it’s such a shame that the leadership in this country has been so remiss on this because we could’ve prevented the economic collapse we’re seeing. Obviously we all want businesses to reopen, we all want the schools to be open so our kids can go to school. Of course we want these things. I don’t want any small businesses in my district to close like they have. I don’t want people to be evicted. I don’t want landlords to miss out on their rent.
But we have to do things safely and securely because there are continued spikes of COVID all across the country and we don’t have control over this. Right now I’m particularly concerned about the reopening we’ve experienced in our state and in our district and the potential for lives being in danged as a result. So we need more or universal testing, we need contact tracing, we need mask requirements. These are easy things that could be done but unfortunately the leaders right now, especially at the highest form in this country have acted like this is not. a big deal when it is such a huge deal.
If you end up winning your race, what is your day one issue to get done for the citizens you represent?
Eastman: Like I said I want to work on healthcare. We are going to need Congress to take significant action to make sure people who are traditionally left behind, people of color, people living in poverty, younger people, people who have disabilities and people who are older. They need to be safe and healthy during the Coronavirus. We need action with our economy so that it doesn’t tank anymore. There’s just so much around the pandemic that needs to be done. But I’m going to Congress to work on healthcare. I’m going to Congress because I think we need money out of politics, that’s why I don’t take corporate PAC money in my campaign. We need people who represent people over the needs of special interests and large corporations.