David Else, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 3rd Congressional District, hand feeds a new calf on his farm near Overton. (Courtesy of Else for Congress)
LINCOLN — You may know him as “David from Overton” for his regular calls to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ radio call-in show to criticize Republican policies.
But that notoriety and a hard-luck life story have elevated David Else from a call-in show regular into a candidate for U.S. Congress, albeit a long-shot one, against U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, who has represented the Nebraska’s sprawling 3rd Congressional District since 2007.
Except for a close race with Democrat Scott Kleeb when the seat was last open in 2006, Smith, a 51-year-old former state senator from Gering, has easily rolled up election victories.
‘Time for someone Else’
Smith has claimed more than 70% of the vote every two years in what
is one of the most Republican congressional districts in the nation — the GOP enjoys more than a 3-to-1 margin over registered Democrats.
In recent weeks, Else, a 62-year-old father of four, has battled broken-down center pivots, drought that’s forced the early sale of calves, a kidney injury that required surgery and a broken nose, which occurred when a cow kicked a gate.
Before that, his life reads like a sad country song: three of his four children were born with birth defects, wife temporarily paralyzed in a horse riding accident, then a divorce. And plenty of financial setbacks, including losing farmland to the bank in the 1980s, seeing crops hailed out, and the death of 60 dairy cows from a disease.
For ‘working people’
Despite all that, and despite having limited funds for a campaign, Else figures his life experiences and down-home message of knowing what “working people” need out of Washington will resonate with voters.
“I don’t have anything against Adrian Smith, but just tell me three things he’s done after 15 years in office,” Else said. “That’s when people scratch their heads.”
It’s all up to God. If God wants me to win, he will; if he don’t, I won't.
– David Else, 3rd District democratic candidate
Else, a lifelong farmer and resident of Overton, even has a catchy campaign slogan: “It’s time for someone Else.”
But his taunting of Smith via Twitter, telling him to come out and get his hands dirty by doing some “actual work” on the farm, hasn’t elicited a response. And there have been no debates.
“It’s all up to God,” he added, as he wrapped up a dusty day of combining soybeans. “If God wants me to win, he will; if he don’t, I won’t.”
Smith has raised $1.2 million
It may take divine intervention.
Smith has raised $1.2 million, according to the Federal Election Commission, while Else said he hasn’t raised or spent $5,000 so far.
Only three times in the past 50 years have Democrats threatened to claim the 3rd District seat:
- In 2006, Scott Kleeb, the husband of the current state Democratic chair, Jane Kleeb, lost by a margin of 55-45% after a last-minute barrage of robocalls on behalf of Smith as well as a campaign visit by President George W. Bush.
- In 1990, Republican Bill Barrett, then a state senator, defeated fellow legislator Sandy Scofield by only 4,400 votes.
- In 1974, the legendary Virginia Smith won her first term in Congress by only 737 votes over Democrat Wayne Ziebarth in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
John Hibbing, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor, said Else doesn’t have a prayer.
Democrats spend money elsewhere
He said Democrats have a hard time recruiting better-known, better-funded candidates to run in the 3rd District because of the poor odds of winning. Else said he’s getting no national money from the party.
“You have to be strategic,” Hibbing said. “Democrats think there are better ways to spend their money.”
Jane Kleeb said the national party has a “broken model” of financially helping congressional campaigns only in “battleground” states.
“He’s doing what he can,” Kleeb said of Else. “It’s obviously a very uphill battle.”
Else said he got into the race, and switched his political affiliation from Republican to independent and then to Democrat, because of experiences with a daughter, Melissa, who has undergone two kidney transplants. He donated one kidney.
Too many people didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford health care until President Barack Obama got the Affordable Care Act passed, he said, yet former President Donald Trump and the Republicans tried to repeal the ACA.
“Without ObamaCare, people like my daughter who have a handicap would die,” Else said.
He said he made a promise to a woman he met at a local hospital who was crying after losing her job and her health insurance. She was about to lose her home, Else said, because of medical bills associated with her son’s serious illness.
“I gave her a hug,” he said. “I promised her I’d do everything I can to get health care for everyone.”
Won primary by 733 votes
“I feel like I have a huge heart for people like that, the working people,” he said.
Party officials, including Jane Kleeb, urged him to run after hearing his calls to Ricketts, Else said.
In his first run at elective office, he won the Democratic primary by 733 votes over Dr. Daniel Wik.
But so far, Else’s campaign has consisted of distributing some yard signs, participating in a couple of parades and giving some speeches at party events.
Else doesn’t strictly follow the Democrat Party platform.
Abortion, gay marriage
He said he would never approve of an abortion in his family — Else said he rejected a suggestion that his wife have one due to his second daughter’s handicaps — but doesn’t support outlawing the procedure.
Else, a Christian, said he was urged by some churchgoing neighbors to reject an abortion for his second daughter, Tearanie, but the promised “help” they offered after she was born never materialized.
“It seems like the Republicans want to save the fetus but don’t want to help them after they’re born,” he said.
Else said he has nothing against gay marriage but said the Bible states that a “marriage” is only between a man and a woman.
Backs help for young farmers
On other issues, he said that the nation needs to do more to help young farmers get a start, that more small meatpacking plants are needed so that the Big Four packers can’t “gouge” beef producers and that small factories should be encouraged to locate in small towns “before they completely die.”
Else said he got a few threats after his calls to Ricketts to complain about GOP trade policies and the governor’s opposition to President Joe Biden’s 30-by-30 plan to voluntarily conserve more land in America.
Ricketts crisscrossed the state holding anti-30-by-30 rallies, saying it was a “land grab” by the federal government.
Else said the plan just helps farmers do what they’re already doing, things like planting cover crops to improve the soil and setting aside acres in conservation programs to cut erosion and help wildlife.
“I told him, ‘Why are you running all over the state telling lies about this program?’ ” Else said.
Apologized to Ricketts
Yet, when he met Ricketts face-to-face at a recent town hall meeting in Lexington, Else said, he apologized for being so harsh.
“I told him we all need to get along instead of fighting,” Else said.
Despite all the heartaches in his life, Else said he’s been fortunate: Doctors said his daughter, Tearanie, would only live to age 7, but she is now 32. His farming operation has rebounded from 320 acres a few years ago to 1,600 today, and he’s working side by side with his son, Chuck.
“Our whole family has had a life of hell, but yet we’ve been blessed,” he said.
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