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Jessica McClure

Shown with her supporters at her Election Night party at Turbine Flats, Jessica McClure (right) was declared the winner of the Democratic nomination for 1st District House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Democratic shakeup.

Nebraska Democratic voters refashioned their party in this week's primary election, turning away from the only Democrat who has won a House race in Nebraska during the past 26 years and turning to women to fill three of four Senate and House nominee slots.

In eastern Nebraska's 1st District, voters chose newcomer Jessica McClure of Lincoln over their 2014 House nominee, Dennis Crawford, a Lincoln attorney who has been a state party officer and online party voice.

But the most dramatic results came in metropolitan Omaha's 2nd District, where children's advocate Kara Eastman upset former Rep. Brad Ashford, derailing his effort to recapture the House seat that he lost to Republican Don Bacon in 2016 after a single term in office.

The Eastman surprise represented the most significant result, as it signaled a Democratic shift to the left in the form of what has been described as progressive politics and swiftly altered the dynamics of a general election contest in a competitive congressional district.

In anticipation of a Bacon-Ashford rematch, the 2nd District had been on national political radar screens as the two parties prepare to battle for control of the House in November. 

Responding to Eastman's nomination, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee quickly pledged its support, suggesting the primary results "reveal unprecedented Democratic energy in this swing district."

Ashford, who upset longtime Republican Rep. Lee Terry in 2014 after previously serving 16 years in the nonpartisan Legislature, could point to significant achievements for the district during his single term but never satisfied the more partisan or liberal/progressive elements of his own party.

"I didn't ever view my role as a partisan political person," Ashford said Wednesday during a telephone interview.

"That never drove my action," he said. "I believed my job was to legislate, to be effective. That's what motivates me. 

"I believe you should never give up that goal for short-term political advantage.

"I feel terrible," Ashford acknowledged. "But I do feel fulfilled and something else will come down the pike. I hope so."

Among projects approved during Ashford's single House term, with the support of the full congressional delegation, were reconstruction of the deteriorating runway at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, approval of an innovative public-private partnership to fund a new Veterans Administration medical facility in Omaha and funding for a new Ebola training center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Eastman's victory was 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent, with most of the 1,100-vote margin coming in Douglas County.

Ashford, who carried Sarpy County's District 2 precincts, texted Eastman to congratulate her and pledge "my full support."

Eastman is president and CEO of Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance and vice chair of the board of governors of Metropolitan Community College.

Her campaign platform includes support for Medicare health care coverage for all Americans, a ban on assault weapons and elimination of college tuition costs for families with annual incomes below $125,000.

In the 1st District, McClure claimed the Democratic nomination and the opportunity to challenge seven-term Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry in November.

"It was about education and health care and we built on that," McClure said during a telephone interview Wednesday.

McClure, who resigned her job as a regulatory compliance specialist to campaign full time during the last couple of months, said support for better accessibility to health care in rural areas and a commitment to protecting and improving support for public education are at the top of her campaign list.

"And I want to promote equality for more people," she said.

"We spent a lot of time doing this for a year, canvassing door-to-door. At last count, we had made more than 17,000 voter contacts, but there were more."

Now, McClure said, she needs to plan a general election campaign.

"I'm new to this," she said. "First, I'm on a road trip with my family for a couple of days off. Next week we will re-evaluate our campaign."

McClure began her working career as a chemist.

Eastman and McClure join Senate nominee Jane Raybould as the three Democratic women who will be seeking congressional seats in the November general election.

In western and central Nebraska, Democrats selected Paul Theobald of Osmond to contest six-term Republican Rep. Adrian Smith in the 3rd District.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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