The Republican civil war, as the press refers to it, will come to a head in Nebraska in just over one week. Three candidates are in the running: Shane Osborn, Ben Sasse and Sid Dinsdale. My pick, Ben Sasse, leads the race presently, but Washington money is pouring in to stop him. Conservative momentum could come to a halt in the cornhusker state if Sasse loses.
Sasse is a college president who had previously spent time working in Washington for the Bush Administration doing health care policy. An outspoken critic of Obamacare, his opponents have painted him, with out-of-context statements, as a supporter of the law. Sasse is supported by a group of conservatives who are often fighting each other. Paul Ryan, Tom Coburn, the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, National Review, RedState and others have all joined Sasse's campaign. Sarah Palin and Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz recently endorsed him, too.
Sasse is the conservative standard bearer in the race. But that has also made him a target. In Kentucky, Sen. Mitch McConnell is fighting off businessman Matt Bevin for the Republican nomination. Bevin is supported by many of the conservative groups supporting Sasse, most notably the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group I support and contribute to. Because of the shared support, Mitch McConnell has worked to defeat Ben Sasse. Declaring he would beat tea party candidates everywhere, McConnell has used his longtime Washington connections to pour money into Nebraska against Sasse.
Nominally getting McConnell's support is Shane Osborn. Osborn, while in the military, piloted the plane the Chinese forced out of the sky in 2001. A memo surfaced relating to that incident that purported to clear Osborn of any errors in judgment or handling of the situation. It turns out that the memo was a fake and Osborn had to take responsibility for it. That has dragged down his polling, and he has resorted to attacking Sasse nonstop.
Standing on the left side of the field is Sid Dinsdale, a banker who is largely self-funded. Dinsdale, who calls himself a "lifelong Republican," has written numerous checks to Democrats over the years. His bank worked with Democrats to craft the Dodd-Frank legislation. Dinsdale himself has said he would never vote against increasing the debt ceiling. Though he has limited support from the establishment and conservatives, Dinsdale has benefited from the feud between Osborn and Sasse.
The Republican Establishment has made it a priority to stop the wave of conservatives building momentum across the country. In the past few months, the Chamber of Commerce and Washington lobbyists have poured money into campaigns to oppose conservatives. They scored a victory with Thom Tillis in North Carolina against a divided conservative field, but the two conservatives in the race combined received more votes.
That brings us back to Nebraska. Conservatives need a win with Ben Sasse, and the establishment knows it. The establishment has decided that Sasse must be defeated because of who supports him. With polling showing Sasse gaining more and more ground, it appears the establishment would be willing to take a Democrat, just to stop conservative momentum. A political action committee run by Mitch McConnell's former campaign manager, Justin Brasell, just spent more than $100,000.00 in advertising against Sasse.
Making this attack more intriguing, Brasell also runs Tom Cotton's Senate campaign. Cotton is a Republican congressman from Arkansas favored by the establishment. Brasell made the attack on Ben Sasse using a seemingly random video of Sasse's own daughters in the advertisement. Outrage ensued and Brasell promptly quit the political action committee to focus on Tom Cotton's campaign. Cotton has stayed quiet about the whole affair.
The Republican Establishment and conservatives will continue fighting across the map. Conservatives look to be on the losing side, given the massive amounts of money being spent by the establishment and its allies. But a win in Nebraska for Ben Sasse could re-energize conservative efforts and give them hope. We will know in about a week.