Col. Tom Brewer realizes that entrenched incumbents don't topple easily. He also realizes he may be embarking on an “impossible” mission to unseat a fellow Republican in Nebraska's western congressional district.
Still, this battle-hardened combat veteran — wounded in two separate ambushes in Afghanistan — believes it's his latest call to duty.
Brewer, 55, is expected to officially launch his congressional bid today in Kearney. He is seeking to wrest the GOP nomination from U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, who has represented the district in Congress since 2007 and who has strong ties with the Nebraska Republican Party.
Brewer says he believes voters in the Republican-rich 3rd Congressional District are eager for another choice and don't want Smith to get a virtual pass each election cycle.
He also said they're eager for someone who doesn't simply “parrot” the Republican Party line.
"I think he’s a go-along, get-along, milquetoast guy who just survives," said Brewer.
One issue for Brewer may be residency. He has not lived in the 3rd Congressional District for more than 20 years. For most of those years, he lived in Murdock, which is east of Lincoln in the 1st Congressional District.
However, Brewer said that throughout his military career, he kept Gordon — in the 3rd District — as his official "home of record" on his military records. He said he has always maintained his voter registration in the district and on his driver’s license. He also said he has always owned a home in Gordon and recently built a new one.
"I kept my home of record in Gordon because I knew I was going to move back out there. Actually, I built a home out there at Gordon, when I was in Afghanistan," said Brewer.
Brewer made it clear he doesn’t have a "beef" with Smith. He could not identify a single vote cast by Smith that he opposed. He said his main concern with Smith is his leadership style.
Brewer said Smith — who holds a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee — has been nearly “invisible” since Nebraskans sent him to Congress.
Smith said he was looking forward to the campaign, and promised to continue to run as a conservative who puts the Constitution first.
"Campaigns come and go, but common-sense constitutional principles endure," he said. "I look forward to the coming months’ campaign and electoral process."
If elected, Brewer vowed that he'd be a more independent-minded voter in Congress and that he'd make his voice and Nebraska's voice heard in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I think for the most part, the 3rd District is conservative, but they want to have strong leadership up there, someone who isn't invisible,” said Brewer.
This will be the first time Smith faces a strong primary opponent since he made his first run for Congress in 2006, defeating four other GOP candidates.
Another Nebraska Republican congressman, U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, also has drawn a strong challenger in the May primary. GOP businessman Dan Frei is hoping to unseat Terry, an eight-term incumbent, in the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District.
Brewer is a widely known figure in Nebraska military and veteran circles. He served 36 years in the military, with most of those years in the Nebraska National Guard. He has been deployed to Afghanistan six times. He also led 30 Nebraska guardsmen on rescue missions in New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.
He said he believes his years in the military have prepared him to serve in Congress.
He also believes that if people compare his résumé to Smith's résumé, they will come to the conclusion that he is the better candidate for the job.
Before going to Congress, Smith served eight years in the Nebraska Legislature.
“Hire the best-qualified candidate,” Brewer said.
Brewer grew up on a farm-ranch operation in Nebraska, about nine miles north of Gordon near the South Dakota border. His mother was a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and he and his family frequently visited family on the neighboring Pine Ridge Reservation.
His decision to run for Congress comes on the heels of his decision to retire from the military. His official retirement parties were held last month.
He had wanted to stay in the Nebraska National Guard, but the injuries he suffered from a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan in 2011 prompted his retirement. Those injuries made a return to Afghanistan impossible and, Brewer says, he didn't want to sit behind a desk.