Corn­husker Se­nate clash Few ker­nels of ci­vil­ity in Ne­braska GOP pri­mary

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

With less than a week to go, the Ne­braska Repub­li­can pri­mary race for U.S. Se­nate has turned into the nas­ti­est po­lit­i­cal fight in the coun­try, with the two top can­di­dates and their al­lies ac­cus­ing each other of ev­ery­thing from us­ing their own chil­dren as po­lit­i­cal shields to be­tray­ing the U.S. Navy.

Now, the cam­paign be­tween es­tab­lish­ment-friendly for­mer state Trea­surer Shane Os­born and tea party-backed univer­sity Pres­i­dent Ben Sasse, which has turned un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally neg­a­tive for Ne­braska, is creat­ing an open­ing for a lesser-known, wealthy chal­lenger who some Repub­li­cans ar­gue would be the most lib­eral of all.

The lat­est at­tacks in­volve al­lies of Mr. Sasse run­ning ads ac­cus­ing Mr. Os­born, the pilot of the 2001 spy flight that was forced down in China, of dis­hon­or­ing his Navy ser­vice.

Mr. Os­born has taken to call­ing Mr. Sasse “Belt­way Ben,” and a su­per PAC with ties to Mr. Os­born and a for­mer cam­paign aide to Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, ac­cused Mr. Sasse of try­ing to hide be­hind his two daugh­ters to avoid po­lit­i­cal at­tacks.

“It re­ally is an in­ter­est­ing bat­tle be­tween kind of the tea party wing and tra­di­tion­al­ists,” said John Hib­bing, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ne­braska. “There is the per­cep­tion here that Sasse is kind of the new kid on the block, hasn’t re­ally paid his dues in terms of es­tab­lish­ment Ne­braska Repub­li­can pol­i­tics here.”

A dearth of polling has made the race dif­fi­cult to hand­i­cap, but Mr. Sasse is try­ing to ride the wave of en­dorse­ments from con­ser­va­tive groups such as the Club for Growth and high-pro­file Repub­li­cans in­clud­ing for­mer Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.

Mr. Os­born on Thurs­day picked up the en­dorse­ment of Kansas Sec­re­tary of State Kris Kobach, a Repub­li­can who has be­come known na­tion­wide for his staunch op­po­si­tion to il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

Mr. Os­born is try­ing to stave off Mr. Sasse and is be­ing aided by the Free­dom Pi­o­neers Ac­tion Net­work, a su­per PAC that the Omaha World-Her­ald said has ties to Mr. Os­born and Mr. McCon­nell.

Mr. Hib­bing said the state’s res­i­dents aren’t used to such neg­a­tiv­ity in po­lit­i­cal cam­paign­ing.

“Ne­braskans are just com­pletely mys­ti­fied by any neg­a­tive ads,” he said. “We’re way be­hind the rest of the coun­try in many re­spects, which is good in a way.”

The noise could cre­ate an open­ing for banker Sid Dins­dale, who is on a “No Bull — Steer­ing Clear of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Spe­cial In­ter­ests” tour, which is stop­ping in about 40 Ne­braska cities this week, ac­cord­ing to his cam­paign.

Mr. Dins­dale, who is run­ning third ac­cord­ing to can­di­date in­ter­nal polling, has other Repub­li­cans wor­ried.

“I think Sid is viewed as kind of the mod­er­ate in the race,” said Mark Fahle­son, a for­mer state party chair­man who is back­ing Mr. Sasse.

Nev­er­the­less, Club For Growth Ac­tion rolled out a statewide TV buy Thurs­day la­bel­ing Mr. Dins­dale “re­ally lib­eral” for, among other things, sup­port­ing an in­crease in the fed­eral debt ceil­ing.

The Madi­son Project, which is sup­port­ing con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates, re­leased a ra­dio ad this week ac­cus­ing Mr. Dins­dale of be­ing a “counterfeit con­ser­va­tive” for his debt ceil­ing po­si­tion and for ques­tion­ing some con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans’ failed effort to de­fund Pres­i­dent Obama’s health care law last year.

Mr. Dins­dale dis­missed the charges, say­ing Wash­ing­ton in­ter­est groups “con­tinue to med­dle in this elec­tion by spend­ing in­cred­i­ble amounts of money try­ing to tell Ne­braskans how to vote.”

“These groups are us­ing lies to try and fool Ne­braskans about who the true con­ser­va­tive is in this race. Their claims could not be fur­ther from the truth,” he said. “I am a life­long, pro-life con­ser­va­tive who has voted for Repub­li­cans in ev­ery elec­tion and sup­ported count­less Repub­li­can can­di­dates’ cam­paigns.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TOGRAPHS

Tea party can­di­date Ben Sasse (left) and es­tab­lish­ment-backed can­di­date Shane Os­born are open­ing a new front in Ne­braska pol­i­tics. They are in the mid­dle of a bit­ter na­tional strug­gle in the Repub­li­can Party be­tween one wing de­ter­mined to main­tain tra­di­tional con­trol and in­sur­gents try­ing to change di­rec­tion.

Sid Dins­dale could find an open­ing be­tween the bit­terly split front-run­ners in the GOP race for Se­nate.

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