Tea Party Favorite Ben Sasse Wins Nebraska GOP Primary

Republican Senate candidate and Midland University President Ben Sasse campaigns in Elmwood, Neb., Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Midland University President Ben Sasse won the Republican nomination in the Nebraska Senate race on Tuesday.

The race was called for Sasse late Tuesday night with about 12 percent of precincts reporting. Sasse had 43 percent of the vote when the race was called while former state Treasurer Shane Osborn had 23 percent and banker Sid Dinsdale had about 25 percent.

Much of the primary race for outgoing Sen. Mike Johnans’s (R) seat was seen as essentially a two-person contest between Ben Sasse and Osborn. Osborn started out as the strong frontrunner but Sasse was able to turn it into a close race, winning the endorsements of a number of prominent tea party groups and figures including the Senate Conservatives Fund, Club for Growth, Sarah Palin, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Notably, the conservative outside group FreedomWorks originally endorsed Osborn but switched its endorsement to Sasse, claiming that Osborn had “formed allegiances with” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the top target of tea-party aligned outside groups this election cycle. Dean Clancy, FreedomWorks’ vice president for public policy, left in protest of the endorsement reversal.

At one point in the race Sasse, by contrast, was scolded by McConnell for too closely associating with the Senate Conservatives Fund.

But Sasse too wasn’t insulated from tea party fury throughout the primary and had to, at times, watch his back. Critical conservatives argued that Sasse, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, was not as conservative as he claimed to be. Critics also often pointed to Sasse seemingly flip-flopping his position on Medicare Part D.

A late twist in the race came by what appeared to be a surge by businessman Sid Dinsdale. There was little polling throughout the race but one Tea Party Express poll showed Dinsdale gaining ground. The wealthy banker looked to ride that wave by injecting $1 million of his own money into his campaign. Together that was enough to prompt supporters of Sasse to switch their fire from Osborn and to Dinsdale. Even then though Dinsdale was seen as something of a long shot candidate.

The race is expected to stay in Republican hands.

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