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nebraska sign

Nebraska's 3rd congressional district election, 2006

covers most of western Nebraska, comprises 69 counties and is considered to be a traditional Republican stronghold. In the 2006 midterm elections, Republican incumbent Tom Osborne did not seek re-election, instead making a failed bid for the Nebraska gubernatorial nomination. In his stead, Republican Adrian Smith defeated Democratic nominee Scott Kleeb 55% to 45%. This ten-point margin was the closest election in the 3rd District since 1990, prompting both candidates to receive a variety of endorsements during the race. Smith won the Republican primary with 39% of the vote in a field of five candidates. He faced Democrat Scott Kleeb, a ranch hand and Yale graduate, in the general election.

Approximately one-third of the funding of his campaign came from members of the Club for Growth, an economic conservative group that supports tax cuts, limited government, and school choice, and advocates eliminating all agricultural subsidies and the elimination of the US Department of Agriculture.

For a time, Smith was presumed to be a prohibitive favorite in this overwhelmingly Republican district. The 3rd is one of the most Republican districts in the nation; presidential and statewide candidates routinely win it with 70 percent or more of the vote. The 3rd is extremely difficult to campaign in and has few unifying influences. It covers nearly 65,000 square miles, two time zones, and 68.5 of Nebraska’s 93 counties (one of which, Cherry County, is larger than the entire state of Connecticut). Both Smith and Kleeb raised and spend more money than any prior third district race.

As the race become more competitive than expected, it received late national attention from the House campaign committees.

President George W. Bush also made an appearance in the district two days before the election to campaign for Smith--a sign that the national party was very concerned about its chances in what had long been presumed to be a very safe Republican seat.

In the end, Smith won by 10 percentage points, taking 55 percent of the vote to Kleeb's 45 percent. This was the closest a Democrat had come to winning the district in 18 years; in 1990, Republican Bill Barrett only won 51% to 49% over fellow Unicamerial state senator, Sandra K. Scofield. In a very strong year for Democrats, the 2006 3rd District Congressional race drew last-minute attention from the national House campaign committees as well as a campaign visit from President George W. Bush on Smith's behalf two days before the election. Toward the end of the campaign, controversy surrounded a series of automated telephone calls to voters. These calls used an unauthorized recording of Kleeb's voice which allegedly distorted his views, and were often made in the middle of the night. Investigations are currently pending to determine the source of these calls, which The New York Times claims "sabotaged" Kleeb's campaign. After thorough investigation by the Nebraska Public Service Commission the complaint file has been closed with no wrong doing found either by the Kleeb vendor of robocalls, political candidates or their committees.

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