Ben Sasse wins the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Nebraska — handily!
Sasse blunted a mini-surge from wealthy bank executive Sid Dinsdale, who appeared to emerge as a threat during the final week of the campaign amid a nasty advertising battle pitting Sasse and his allies against former state treasurer Shane Osborn, the candidate most closely aligned with the GOP establishment.
With most precincts reporting, Sasse led Dinsdale 48 percent to 23 percent, with Osborn running third with 22 percent of the vote. Sasse will be a heavy favorite in the general election considering Nebraska’s strong conservative tilt.
And yet, you’d have never known Sasse was even a candidate from NPR’s fly-over coverage yesterday:
LIASSON: Today there’s a primary in Nebraska, where Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and groups like FreedomWorks are backing one candidate. Mitch McConnell is backing another. But while that intramural fight is bitter, the stakes are low. In the very red State of Nebraska, the Senate seat will probably stay in Republican hands no matter who wins the primary.
There and elsewhere in GOP primaries, the differences are more about style than substance. Terry Schilling is with the American Principles in Action, a Tea Party ally.
TERRY SCHILLING: In 2010 and 2012, you saw this typical battle between the establishment and the Tea Party. What we’re seeing today is not necessarily a battle between the establishment and Tea Party, but both the conservative establishment and the Tea Party are embracing populist issues.
LIASSON: So instead of a Todd Aiken saying dumb things about rape, Schilling says you have Republican candidates across the board embracing bans on late term abortions.
SCHILLING: I would argue that right now what’s changed is that we all want a purer party, right? We want a party that stays in line with our principles. But we also want a party that connects with a broad base of voters. The conservative movement and the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party are getting more practical.
LIASSON: Democrats argue even if the Republican establishment is winning primaries they’re still nominating candidates that are too conservative to win. That proposition will be tested in November. But no matter what happens then, Matt Kibbe is on safe ground when he describes what the Republican ranks in Congress will look like in January.
KIBBE: I will boldly predict that there will be more members of what I would call the liberty caucus in the Senate and the House.
LIASSON: Ever since the Tea Party emerged on the scene five years ago, it’s managed to move the Republican Party slowly but steadily to the right, even if its candidates don’t win at the ballot box.
Of course, Sasse is not yet in the Senate — he will need to win in November. And where he might go from the Senate is unclear. A run for the president would seem a stretch, even though Sasse is young and even though we have precedents (arguably not the best) for electing Senators as chief executive. Nebraska is not exactly a state rich with electoral college votes. Maybe he will eventually run for governor of Nebraska, acquire executive experience, and consolidate Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, and Iowa into one mega-state (imagine the lottery winnings). But since I had no idea Ben had this in him back when he was passing the baton of Modern Reformation to me, I have learned not to underestimate him.