Nebraska Senate race: Tea party vs. K street

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – Much more than just a young university president versus a war hero, the race between the two frontrunners in Nebraska’s Senate campaign is shaping up to be a battle between the tea party and K Street’s establishment Republicans.

That’s the word from the Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney, who reports:

State Treasurer Shane Osborn is a conservative Republican who rails against Washington insiders and criticizes the Republican leadership for the recent budget deal, but whose pedigree shows strong ties to the Republican establishment.

Former Bush administration official Ben Sasse is also a conservative Republican who rails against Washington insiders and criticizes the Republican leadership for the recent budget deal, but whose pedigree shows strong ties to the Republican establishment.

Looking at their records and their rhetoric, you wouldn’t be able to tell which is the candidate of the Tea Party and which is the candidate of K Street and the GOP establishment. But their donor lists make it crystal clear.

The Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund are backing Sasse. Perhaps for that reason, K Street and the GOP establishment are bankrolling Osborn.

Carney notes that “a few dozen corporate lobbyists… a roster of the GOP establishment” hosted a February fundraiser for Osborn at the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C. The event was headlined by “two K Streeters” who are “pillars of the GOP establishment” who backed Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst over Ted Cruz and Tommy Thompson over two tea partiers in Wisconsin in 2012.

The host list also included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s former chief of staff. And while the K Streeters gave Carney a host of reasons for supporting Osborn, the columnist suggests the real reason K Street is behind Osborn “might be more parochial: The Senate Conservatives Fund is backing Sasse.”

The SCF endorsed Sasse right before it went to war with McConnell by endorsing his opponent, Matt Bevin. Sasse didn’t help matters when he released an online video in September calling out Republicans, and McConnell specifically, for failing to “show some actual leadership” on Obamacare by giving up their health care subsidies.

This led to a heated November meeting between Sasse and McConnell in D.C., where McConnell ripped Sasse for posting the video and working with the SCF, according to the National Review.

The Review declared Sasse “collateral damage in a GOP civil war” between McConnell and Matt Hoskins of SCF and Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint. Since SCF backed McConnell’s opponent, he has “launched a campaign against his vendors, his allies, and candidates he has endorsed.”

The Tea Party vs. K Street angle was explored by the Associated Press in its “Big Story” this week, where they note that McConnell and his allies have quietly backed Osborn, steering major donors his way, including UPS. Their take:

Until recently, Nebraska has been somewhat immune to the party’s internal war. But this year, GOP leaders in Washington and mainstream Republican groups are determined to push back against tea-party candidates, who have often been more prone to making big gaffes and collapsing on Election Day. Traditional Republicans also want to cultivate candidates who will work with them in Congress.

Sasse is no gaffe-prone hayseed. The 42-year-old Harvard and Yale graduate is part professor, part boy next door, pivoting effortlessly from discussing Israel as a model for border security to reminiscing about his childhood in Fremont. With wispy hair and a toothy grin, he projects youthfulness, especially when accompanied by his wife and three young children.

Nor is Sasse a pure outsider: He was undersecretary of health and human services during the Bush administration.

Likewise, Osborn is no heir to the GOP establishment. The son of a single mother, the 39-year-old graduated from the University of Nebraska on an ROTC scholarship.
His affable nature, military discipline and past success on a statewide ballot made him the early choice of influential Republicans, including McConnell. It also helped that the group out to get McConnell was supporting Sasse.

The Examiner columnist noted that “Once Tea Partiers start lining up on one side and K Streeters on the other, this pattern reinforces itself. The result: One conservative Nebraskan has become the insurgent candidate, and the other has become the establishment candidate. Chalk it up to the fog of the GOP civil war.”

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org. Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

Top