Ben Sasse, president of Midland University, is the winner in the Nebraska GOP Senate Primary, according to the Associated Press. With 65.7 percent of precincts reporting, Sasse had 48.7 percent of the vote, Pinnacle Bank Chairman Sid Dinsdale came in with 22.8 percent and State Treasurer Shane Osborn was trailing in third with 21.4 percent in the race to replace the retiring Sen. Mike Johanns.
This is a clear victory for the tea party and it is their best shot in a Senate race this primary season. Jordan Gehrke, a senior advisor to the campaign said Sasse will go to the Senate and get to work on “day one.”
“We believe Ben is not going to be a back bencher when he gets there,” Gehrke told ABC News. “On day one he will be to Obamacare in the Senate what Paul Ryan has been to the budget in the House.”
Gehrke added that the “lesson of this campaign is candidates matter and solutions matter” and his candidacy was “never only about getting another conservative vote,” but instead about “putting forward big ideas.”
Sasse is not your classic anti-establishment choice. Even though he was backed by both Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz, as well as groups like Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund who have poured money into the race, he previously worked in President George W. Bush’s administration and has also been endorsed by both Paul Ryan and the National Review, elevating his profile in more establishment circles. Aides like to compare him to Ryan.
Outside money poured into the primary with a total of $3.1 million spent on television ads, a little more than half of that spent by outside groups, ad tracking sources tell ABC News.
Dinsdale, who has partially self-funded his campaign, was seen until recently as the other candidate to Sasse and State Treasurer Shane Osborn, but he saw a late surge of momentum as Sasse and Osborn have entered in to an ugly intra-party civil war with money on both sides pouring in and paying for nasty ads, which somewhat helped the candidates remain above the fray.
Outside money turned their focus on Dinsdale in the last days of the primary. Speaking to reporters when he voted Tuesday, Dinsdale said the campaign was a “wonderful experience,” but the nasty ads were “not as hard on me as it is my family.”
Osborn had both local tea party support, as well as more establishment-aligned groups like a super PAC with ties to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that put money in targeting Sasse. The two had a high-profile blow-up in November when McConnell reportedly lit into Sasse for working with SCF, which is trying to oust McConnell and other incumbents.
Osborn released a statement congratulating Sasse and said while the “results are not what we had hoped” he looks forward to “working to help our candidates in Nebraska and across the country win this fall.”
Sasse was attacked over his out-of-state support and a recent ad touted his Nebraska backers, including former Gov. Kay Orr. Tea party and conservative groups were quick to applaud Sasse’s victory saying it showed the movement still has strength.
The Club for Growth spent nearly $500,000 in support of Sasse and members of the group contributed more than $350,000 to him. In a statement Club for Growth president Chris Chocola congratulated Sasse and said he “clearly articulated a conservative vision to Nebraska voters who rewarded him with their votes.”
Brent Bozell, chairman of tea party group ForAmerica said in a statement, “The GOP establishment came after Ben with everything — including the ugliest and most reprehensible personal attacks — and it only made him stronger.”
SCF put in over $1 million in support of Sasse. Their executive director Matt Hoskins said in a statement Sasse will “lead the fight to repeal Obamacare.”