WASHINGTON — Rep. Lee Terry's next challenger could come from his old stomping grounds — the Omaha City Council.
Pete Festersen, a Democrat, is considering a 2014 bid to unseat the eight-term Republican congressman.
“I'm focused on my duties as City Council president but have been receiving local and national encouragement to run, and I'm in the process of discussing it with family, friends, colleagues and supporters,” Festersen told The World-Herald on Wednesday.
A local businessman, Festersen was elected to the council in 2009. Before that, he served as a top aide to Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey.
Festersen also has held senior positions at the Peter Kiewit Foundation, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and Alegent Health.
The longest-serving Omaha congressman in history, Terry has weathered serious challenges in the past. In November, he beat Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing, who announced Wednesday that he would not seek a rematch. It was a competitive race and will no doubt encourage candidates to get in this time around.
Other potential challengers for Terry's seat in 2014 include Democrat Larry Bradley, who made an unsuccessful bid for University of Nebraska regent last year, and State Sen. Bob Krist, a Republican appointed by Gov. Dave Heineman.
Krist said Wednesday that he wasn't ready to announce anything, but he confirmed that he was considering a campaign for Terry's seat or another office.
Krist said the only office he would definitely not pursue is governor.
He said he's not sure whether he would run as a Republican or Democrat. “That's really part of my whole decision process.”
Nebraska Democratic Party Chairman Vince Powers said he had not talked to Krist, but his party doesn't have any litmus test for candidates.
“If Sen. Krist wanted to run, we would welcome him in,” Powers said.
Festersen has already been talking to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which held a conference call for reporters on Wednesday to discuss Republican incumbents they view as vulnerable.
Terry was one of the members identified on the call by the committee's chairman, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who previewed a potential line of attack for Democrats.
Israel criticized Terry for not supporting a Democratic proposal to stop furloughs of Defense Department civilians that started this week as a result of the automatic across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.
Israel noted that the furloughs are hurting thousands of Nebraskans, many of whom are stationed at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha. He criticized Terry for referring to sequestration as a “manageable reduction” in a speech.
Terry noted that Congress passed legislation earlier this year to give the Pentagon more budget flexibility, a step that administration officials had indicated could substantially reduce or eliminate the need for furloughs. He said it was the Pentagon that decided to proceed with the furloughs.
“I've been working as hard as anyone to reduce those furloughs in Omaha,” Terry said.
As for the more general issue of sequestration, Terry said he thinks most of his constituents believe that Congress has not gone far enough in cutting government spending, and he encouraged Democrats to try that line of attack against him.
“If they want to put themselves as big spenders against limited government success, I'm in,” Terry said. “Bring it on.”
Powers said that although he considers Terry vulnerable, Democrats must still find a quality candidate who can run a solid campaign.
He noted that one challenge faced by Ewing was that donors were reluctant to contribute to his campaign after the resounding defeat that Terry handed Democratic challenger Tom White in the 2010 election.
But times have changed, Powers said.
“People take a look at what happened with John Ewing and they're looking in the mirror and saying, 'Hey, if I want to be a congressman, now's the time,' ” Powers said.
Israel was asked what kind of national support a Democrat could count on in a campaign against Terry.
He said candidates have an obligation to build their own campaigns, and someone who does that can expect support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“We'll help to the maximum extent possible,” he said.
Terry said that it's still early but that he's already working hard on getting re-elected. He noted that he raised $208,000 in the first quarter of this year, which is significantly more than he raised in the first quarter of 2011.
He said he is interviewing campaign managers. Dave Boomer, his campaign manager through several elections, is working on Shane Osborn's U.S. Senate campaign.
“It's a competitive district,” Terry said. “They're all going to be tough, no matter who's put up. I've been through it, and so there's not as much internal anxiety.”
World-Herald staff writer Roseann Moring contributed to this report.