Henry Kissinger said, “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.” The same can be said of the Nebraska Republican primary.
Ben Sasse (former health-care adviser to George W. Bush), former state treasurer Shane Osborn and banker Sid Dinsdale are facing off. The winner will be a slam dunk in the fall general election to replace retiring Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). But does it matter who wins?
Sasse has been endorsed by a number of tea party groups, but also by conservative establishment-types including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Osborn has tea party support as well. Politico observed, “Osborn has been endorsed by several local tea party groups, including the Nebraska Republican Liberty Caucus, Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, Western Nebraska Taxpayers Association and Omaha Liberty Ladies. And Sasse, who worked in D.C. for several years, has the backing of national conservative groups and figures including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz.”
In a moment of comic relief in a race characterized by nasty personal attacks, FreedomWorks backed Osborn and then switched to Sasse because it presumably didn’t want to be on the same side as a PAC with a connection to the Senate minority leader. Pretty silly stuff. If the differences were significant, how could they turn on a dime?
The GOP “establishment” has given a collective shrug of the shoulders. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has remained studiously neutral. In response to questions about its preference, the NRSC’s spokesman insists that the committee would be happy with either. The usual big-dollar donors (e.g. Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads) have steered clear of the race as well.
Do the candidates differ on the issues? It’s hard to find contrasts among three strongly conservative candidates who all claim to be the most devoted to repealing Obamacare. Dinsdale seems to be making a late surge, most likely because the bitter feud between the other two candidates hasn’t made either one look all that great.
It is noteworthy how desperately the tea party backers want to make Sasse one of their own, going to D.C. to fight the establishment. Osborn backers can and are saying the same thing. Sometimes the tea party groups seem overly eager to spend their donors’ money to pick fights and assign labels whatever the specifics of the race. In the end, this is a safe red seat that will be filled by a conservative. A lot of people spent a lot of money on the race, the outcome of which remains rather irrelevant.