It’s Primary Season: Nebraska and West Virginia Go to the Polls

May 13, 2014 3:00am

Another Tuesday, another Primary Day as Nebraska and West Virginia voters go to the polls today.

The key race today is the GOP Senate primary in Nebraska and it is the tea party’s best shot at victory, but it’s not exactly a clear tea party vs. establishment brawl as we saw last week in North Carolina. Of course, it is still a brawl, a three-way fight that has seen outside money pouring in and big name endorsements all around. There is also a gubernatorial race in that state that sees a re-match of sorts as well as a seven way battle in West Virginia. Here are the top primary races being held today and why they matter:

TEA PARTY’S BEST CHANCE AT VICTORY:

As mentioned above, the Senate GOP primary in Nebraska is today’s key race to replace retiring Sen. Mike Johanns and it’s one of — if not the — best shot for victory for the tea party in this election cycle. But the tea party candidate, Midland University President Ben Sasse, backed by both Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz, is not your typical anti-establishment choice. Sasse seems to have the momentum, but he’s facing off against two candidates in a three-way battle that could really go in any direction. Pinnacle Bank Chairman Sid 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 has seen a recent 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.

It’s allowed the candidates to try and stay above the fighting, but could be helping Dinsdale if it turns off voters. If it sounds familiar this is exactly what happened in 2012 when Deb Fischer surged from outsider status to victor.

WHY IT MATTERS:

Sasse may not be exactly a tea partier, though. He has previously worked in D.C., and has also been endorsed by both Paul Ryan and the National Review, elevating his profile in more establishment circles. Of course if he wins today it will be seen as a huge win for the tea party movement, whether he is your typical tea partier or not.

Aides like to describe him more as a “Ryan-style conservative.” His ads, though, have been focused squarely on Obamacare and outside groups like the Club for Growth, Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF), and the Madison Project have all thrown money into the race. And Osborn has been endorsed by some local tea party groups, as well as more establishment-aligned groups like a super PAC with ties to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that has 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, who is trying to oust McConnell and other incumbents.

Osborn actually hit Sasse on his Obamacare stance, but used an editorial that the newspaper says was taken out of context. Sasse has been attacked over his out-of-state support and a recent ad touted his Nebraska backers, including former Gov. Kay Orr. If there is any question whether Dinsdale’s late surge is real, just look at the outside money, which has turned their dollars and negative ads directly at Dinsdale. The victor today is the likely winner in this deep red state.

A NEBRASKA RE-MATCH:

There has been little polling in the Nebraska GOP Senate Primary, but Attorney General Jon Bruning and investor Pete Ricketts, who is the former chief operating officer of Ameritrade, Inc. as well as on the board of directors for TD Ameritrade, are locked in a battle for the top spot, while state Sen. Beau McCoy and state Auditor Mike Foley are also in the fight. But the lack of polling makes it unclear who is the likeliest to come out victorious today.

WHY IT MATTERS:

The race is one of the most competitive in Nebraska history with outside spending topping state records.Bruning and Ricketts are in somewhat of a re-match. Bruning was the frontrunner, but came up short in the 2012 GOP Senate primary to underdog and current U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer. Ricketts’ father, Joe Ricketts, founder of the Omaha-based online brokerage firm TD Ameritrade, Chicago Cubs owner, and billionaire GOP donor, dumped a huge amount of money in a last-minute superPAC ad buy on behalf of Fischer.

The Ricketts family’s involvement in this race is perhaps why there are quite a large number of high-profile endorsers for Ricketts. Vice President Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin, as well as possible 2016 contenders Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, and Ted Cruz have all backed the younger Ricketts. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who is term limited, backed Bruning who is looking to not only topple his opponent, but the Ricketts family once again. Like the Senate seat, the winner today is the likely November victor in conservative Nebraska.

A SEVEN-WAY BRAWL:

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is leaving her House seat to run for the Senate and a heated GOP primary has developed in West Virginia’s Second Congressional District to replace her. She has decided not to endorse and there are seven GOP candidates running in what has turned into a nasty race. There is little polling in the race, but the establishment favorite seems to be former U.S. International Trade Commissioner and state legislator Charlotte Lane.  The two other strong candidates, who have raised more than Lane, are pharmacist Ken Reed who has partially self-funded his campaign, and former Maryland GOP Chairman Alex Mooney, who is considered the tea party candidate. The other GOP candidates are private investigator Robert Fluharty, former state legislator Steve Harrison, businessman Jim Moss, and financial consultant Ron Walters, Jr.

WHY IT MATTERS:

Lane and Reed have tried to label Mooney has a carpetbagger, but he argues the district he served as a state senator for more than a decade in Maryland neighbors the West Virginia district and the two are similar. He has since moved to the district and has faced his move to the state head on with a narrator in an ad last month saying he came to the state “to live in freedom and he’ll fight Obama to preserve it.”

The heated primary means it could make it easier for Democrats to nab it in November. Former state Democratic Party chairman Nick Casey is the frontrunner and is backed by Sen. Joe Manchin in his primary against attorney Meshea Poore.

THE OTHERS:

WHO WILL REPLACE CORY BOOKER, MAYOR OF NEWARK, NEW JERSEY

It’s not just Nebraska and West Virginia. Newark, New Jersey voters will also go to the polls today to choose their new mayor since the spot was vacated by Cory Booker when he won the U.S. Senate special election to replace Frank Lautenberg, who passed away in office.

City Council member and high school principal Ras Baraka is facing off against former state assistant attorney general and former Newark school board president Shavar Jeffries, both Democrats.

WHY IT MATTERS:

It’s been an incredibly nasty fight, with two of Jeffries’ campaign workers accused of setting Baraka’s campaign bus on fire and sugar was poured into the engine. Jeffries fired both workers. Both candidates oppose a possible state financial takeover, but disagree on education issues in the state. Outside groups have also been involved in the pricey race with labor groups backing Baraka and airing anti-Jeffries ads and Jeffries has the backing of an outside group called Newark First, but has been portrayed in negative ads as being aligned with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, something he denies. Baraka has the backing of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, as well as former governor Richard Codey. The Newark Star-Ledger has endorsed Jeffries calling him a “real reformer.”

WHAT ELSE ARE WE WATCHING? 

CLAY AIKEN LIKELY TO BECOME NORTH CAROLINA’S DEMOCRATIC IDOL

After the unexpected death Monday of Clay Aiken’s opponent, Keith Crisco, it is likely Aiken will become the official Democratic nominee for North Carolina’s Second Congressional District today. He was leading by a slim 369 votes and according to the state board of elections, they will continue the vote certification process as scheduled for today since it is prescribed by statute.

If the absentee ballots or voting errors put Crisco ahead of Aiken then the district executive committee of the Democratic Party would choose the nominee. Of course, this is just legal hurdles and now Aiken will face steep competition to try and oust GOP incumbent Rep. Renee Ellmers in the conservative district this November.

 

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