Tea Partiers Freak Out About Possible Spoiler In Nebraska Senate Race

Republican Senate hopeful, banker Sid Dinsdale, in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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A third candidate in what was long seen as a two-person race for the Nebraska GOP Senate nomination has tea partiers worried.

Sid Dinsdale (pictured), the wealthy banker who has won less attention than Midland University President Ben Sasse or former state Treasurer Shane Osborn, is suddenly under attack from prominent outside conservative organizations just ahead of the Nebraska Republican Senate primary on May 13.

On Thursday the Club for Growth, which has thus far sought to boost Sasse by hammering Osborn, directed its fire at Dinsdale in a new ad. The spot painted Dinsdale as a secret liberal who argues there are some good aspects of Obamacare:

The Club for Growth is dropping six figures on the statewide ad, according to a spokesman.

On Tuesday, The Madison Project, another conservative outside group, also released an ad attacking Dinsdale. Like the Club for Growth ad, the Madison Project ad warned of “liberal Republican Sid Dinsdale.” Listen to the radio here:

The Madison Project’s Daniel Horowitz, the group’s policy director, called Dinsdale a “Manchurian candidate” and linked to a report on how Dinsdale pressured then-Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) to help pass the Dodd-Frank bill.

Erick Erickson, the editor of Redstate.com, also published a blog post warning that Dinsdale might play spoiler for supporters of either Osborn or Sasse (Erickson supports Sasse) and win the primary.

“Before the campaign began, Republicans in Washington were under the impression he would be the Democrat in the race. Rumor was that he was meeting with Democrat consultants,” Erickson wrote. “And now, at the end of a bitterly fought race in Nebraska, Dinsdale might win. Osborn has destroyed his last bit of credibility and has driven his own negatives so high that he can’t win. Sasse is in the lead with Osborn and McConnell’s PAC attacking him. Now Dinsdale is finally beginning to spend major money.”

Dinsdale has pushed back on both The Madison Project and Club for Growth ad.

“These attacks have come from groups that openly support and have endorsed Ben Sasse,” Dinsdale said in a statement responding to the Club for Growth ad on Thursday. “Allowing these groups to run attack ads on your behalf is in essence negative campaigning, and every candidate knows that. I will continue I run a positive campaign and respond to these attacks in a positive, respectful manner that sets the record straight. Responding with negative ads is not how things are done in Nebraska and was never part of my campaign strategy.”

Dinsdale’s campaign released an ad hitting back at the attacking outside groups on Thursday afternoon.

“Nebraskans are self reliant people who don’t need to be told what to do from special interests,” a narrator in the ad said.

The pivot toward attacking Dinsdale appears to be a response to a late surge by the banker in the Senate race. Dinsdale recently injected a $1 million loan into his campaign putting him into the number two spot in fundraising behind Sasse. A Tea Party Express poll conducted in April found Sasse (which the Tea Party Express supports) and Osborn effectively tied in the race with Dinsdale in third place at 13 percent. The poll, however, suggested Dinsdale might actually be gaining ground.

The qualm seems to be that Dinsdale isn’t nearly conservative enough for tea partiers’ tastes. When the Omaha World-Herald editorial page endorsed him the paper praised the fact that he’s a conservative and a “pragmatist” who would not have supported Ted Cruz’s effort to repeal Obamacare through a government shutdown.

“Sensibly, he would talk with those on the other side of the partisan aisle, and he has the tools to be persuasive in such conversations,” the endorsement said.

If Dinsdale were to win the primary it would be somewhat analogous to the 2012 Senate race where, as The Washington Post notes, feuding between the GOP-establishment aligned Jon Bruning and the tea party-favored Don Stenberg created an opening for now-Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) to win the primary and the race.

Aaron Trost, who served as Fischer’s campaign manager, told TPM on Thursday that the attacks on Dinsdale were an acknowledgement by the outside groups that Osborn’s candidacy wasn’t really a threat for Sasse anymore.

“With Dinsdale spending a lot of money in the closing days of the race, I think there will be a stronger focus on him from some groups,” Trost said.

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