With just over two weeks to go before Nebraska Republicans choose a nominee for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Mike Johanns, the four-candidate contest is boiling down to who has the most backing among conservative activists.
Although all four Republicans in the May 13th primary are considered strong conservatives and all have significant resources, signs are strong that the top two contenders are former state treasurer Shane Osborn and Dr. Ben Sasse, a former Bush administration official and the president of Midland University.
Sasse has come from single digits to second place in most polls, in large part through heavy funding from national organizations. But Osborn, a former Navy pilot who spent 12 days as a captive in China in ’01, has responded by rallying both traditional conservatives and tea partiers within the Cornhusker State.
A Breitbart/ Polling Company
survey last month of likely GOP voters found Osborn leading Sasse by a margin of 35% to 24%, with 9% for banker Sid Dinsdale and 2% for attorney Bart McCleary. A Conservative Intel Poll
in February showed the race much closer, with Osborn edging Sasse 30.40% to 29%, with Dinsdale at 13% and McCleary at 4.3%.
For weeks, Sasse has been piling up backing from national groups such as the Club for Growth and the national FreedomWorks Political Action Committee (which recently switched its endorsement from Osborn to Sasse) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla), a nationally-known fiscal conservative.
Dean Clancy, FreedomWorks’ former top healthcare policy expert, parted ways with the organization one day after the endorsement switch. Clancy had publicly criticized Sasse for months over his past statements on healthcare reform. Clancy specifically blasted Sasse for his support of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefits program, which many conservatives opposed. In 2009, Sasse wrote an op-ed for "U.S. News and World Report" hailing the Medicare Part D program as a model for healthcare reform. His campaign has since said he opposes the program.
In response to the FreedomWorks switch, Osborn’s campaign penned a strongly-worded letter from 52 grassroots conservative leaders in Nebraska stating their opposition to the Washington groups supporting Sasse’s candidacy.
Osborn himself made a strong case for his own conservative credentials to Newsmax last week. And, like many fellow veterans seeking office, he came out swinging.
"I prefer the support of conservatives in Nebraska, and I'm proud to have most of them," Osborn told us.
Among the revered figures on the right in the Cornhusker State who have endorsed him are former State GOP Chairman Chuck Sigerson, former Omaha Mayor and Rep. Hal Daub, and Lee Terry, former TV anchorman and father of Omaha-area Rep. Lee H. Terry.
In addition, the Osborn campaign last week released the endorsements of five prominent Nebraska conservatives — Nebraska Liberty Caucus President Laura Ebke, Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom President Dough Kagan, Western Nebraska Taxpayers Association Chairman Mike Groene, and Sheila Heieck, president of Omaha Liberty Ladies.
Heieck, well known for organizing protests in front of former Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson’s office before his vote for Obamacare, cut a hard-hitting video that questions Sasse’s self-styled image as Obamacare’s arch-nemesis.
“There’s only one nemesis of Obamacare in Nebraska and that is Shane Osborn,” says Heieck, “I can’t say the same thing about Ben Sasse.”
She goes on to recall how “several months before Senator Nelson cast the 60th and deciding vote for Obamacare, I asked Sasse for his advice at a Republican Party fundraiser in Lincoln about how to stop Ben Nelson from voting for that bill.
“Sasse looked me in the eye and said, ‘Don’t bother, there’s nothing you can do – it’s going to pass.’ We don’t need any more double speak in Washington.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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