Brett Lindstrom began his race to unseat U.S. Rep. Lee Terry as an unknown to the Nebraska Republican Party, but the party's top official now says he admires the brash newcomer's guts.
Lindstrom attended GOP events and courted people long committed to the congressman. He mixed it up with the press when he was ignored. He raised $54,000 and built a staff of volunteers.
His staff pressed party leaders for a Lindstrom seat at the state party's table of power, its central committee, an almost unheard-of request that was denied.
The state party and more than $1 million worth of its donors have endorsed the incumbent, Terry. But some, including party leaders, see in Lindstrom a politician with a possible future.
“It takes a tad bit of chutzpah to challenge an incumbent ... especially for someone at the age of 31 to do it,” said Mark Fahleson, state GOP chairman. “We'd love it if he becomes more active in the party and considers running for office in the future.”
Lindstrom's confidence comes across while he campaigns — his eye contact, handshake and gait. He credits much of that self-awareness to his time, from 1999 through 2003, as a walk-on quarterback for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers.
He says his drive and business smarts make up for any lack of political experience.
“People say it's insurmountable,” Lindstrom said. “It's really not.”
Yet even Lindstrom acknowledges the difficulty of unseating a seven-term incumbent in the May 15 Republican primary. If the race turns out as most expect and he falls, he says, he'll be back in 2014 to run again for Terry's seat.
“In the Lindstrom house, if you commit to something, you don't give up,” he said.
The other Republicans in the race are Jack Heidel, a University of Nebraska at Omaha math professor; Glenn Freeman, former chairman of the Douglas County GOP; and Paul Anderson, who filed as a pauper.
For his part, Lindstrom says he can win this time.
“I'm kind of bucking the system,” Lindstrom said. “The old-school Republicans aren't too fond of that, because they have had their horse in the race for a long time. I just hope that people look at our campaign and see what I can do in Washington.”
While he cannot afford to do polling, Lindstrom says he believes people have grown weary of Terry, 50, and want a change. That's what he reports hearing when he knocks on doors each weekend and attends community events, including 10 Lenten fish fries.
On a recent afternoon, a tanned Lindstrom went door to door to talk to potential voters like Patricia Inserra, 65. He campaigned in a polo shirt, plaid shorts and tennis shoes.
“You're young,” she said from her midtown door. “But that's good that a person is younger. They try to do more.”
Lindstrom said he decided to run at the urging of friends, many of whom he's known since his days at Millard West High School, where he graduated in 1999. The friends who encouraged him to run put their lives on hold to volunteer for his staff.
“It's pretty humbling, knowing that people are doing all this work on your behalf,” Lindstrom said. “But there's pressure, too, because you don't want to let them down.”
But the idea of a run was planted during a Lindstrom family trip to Washington D.C., when he was a kid.
“I remember standing over the House floor, and I thought, ‘I wonder if I could be there?'” he said. “I just think this country is headed in the wrong direction, and honestly, it seemed like the right time.”
He decided to aim high rather than enter politics by running for school board or a county office.
Lindstrom says he wants to cut spending to trim the $15 trillion federal debt and eliminate congressional pensions. He wants the new federal health care law repealed.
He says he'd work to overhaul the public education system and wants to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and let the states, parents and teachers run their own schools.
And he says he wants a smaller government that helps with job creation but “stays out of the way.” He proposes lowering the corporate tax rate to make businesses more competitive globally.
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