Sasse surprises some by reaching out to McConnell


By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – Even before he swept to victory on Tuesday in the Nebraska Republican primary election, Ben Sasse was playing nice when asked about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

An MSNBC host had asked Sasse on the morning of the election if he’d support McConnell — assuming both are elected to the Senate and Republicans still support him as a leader – and Sasse surprised some by saying “Absolutely.”

SASSE: Nebraska’s Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, Ben Sasse, speaks to supporters after winning the primary election, standing in the shadow of his trademark 9-foot-high stack of Obamacare regulations.

Then after he was declared the winner in the primary, Sasse called McConnell and pledged his support, according to ABC News reporter Jeff Zeleny.

That was a surprise to all the national media that has been breathlessly reporting on how Nebraska’s Senate race was really a grudge match between the Tea Party and Establishment Republicans. It’s true that Sasse was endorsed by a parade of Tea Party groups, including the Senate Conservatives Fund, which was also trying to unseat McConnell, which did not endear Sasse to the minority leader.

Breitbart reported “a source close to Sasse with knowledge of the call” said Sasse and McConnell didn’t discuss whether Sasse would support his leadership. That conflicts with what a Sasse staffer – who did not want to be named — told Nebraska Watchdog on Wednesday. Asked if ABC was correct when it said Sasse pledged his support, the staffer said yes. But the staffer portrayed the call as standard procedure for a winning primary candidate, and said Sasse promised to help win a Republican majority in the Senate.

Sasse’s olive branch to McConnell disrupted the national narrative pitting his win as a Tea Party win over K Street. While Sasse has certainly talked like an outsider and taken Republicans – and McConnell himself – to task, he condemned the story line that he was part of a GOP civil war. In fact, when he met with McConnell in November, Sasse intended to tell him he had not secretly vowed to oppose his leadership if elected, according to the National Review’s version of events.

The Sasse campaign says even that meeting was blown out of proportion by the media. Sasse advisors Jordan Gehrke and John Yob released a memo Wednesday saying Sasse’s win was more of a framework for how to end the so-called civil war and show what can happen when “conservatives support good quality candidates with credible resumes, the ability to articulate a vision, and serious policy solutions.”

“Conservative groups got behind good candidates early and supported leaders who could appeal to GOP Primary voters, donors, activists, leaders, and operatives across the establishment vs. anti-establishment spectrum,” they wrote. “In the last two cycles, we saw what happened when anti-establishment candidates with questionable backgrounds or poor campaign skills were nominated in several states.”

The advisors said Sasse was just a “phenomenal candidate.”

“He has movie-casting looks, a beautiful and devoted family, significant experience in the business world and as a college president, and down-home connection to his state and community,” they wrote. “Both sides should look at Ben Sasse for whom he will be as a leader rather than try to wholly define him by the people who supported him or opposed him.”

The Senate Conservatives Fund – McConnell’s nemesis – spent over $1 million supporting Sasse with donations and two statewide TV ads. Asked what the group thought of Sasse extending an olive branch to McConnell, Executive Director Matt Hoskins would not comment on the record.

The anti-tax Club for Growth’s super PAC spent nearly a half-million dollars beating up Sasse’s opponents and members donated another $363,000 to Sasse’s campaign – former State Treasurer Shane Osborn and Omaha banker Sid Dinsdale. What did they think of Sasse extending an olive branch to McConnell?

“We don’t have an opinion on leadership races in the Senate or House,” said Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller.

Contact Deena Winter at Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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

Category: Nebraska WatchBlog, Ben Sasse, Mitch McConnell, Nebraska Senate campaign, Shane Osborn, Tea Party vs. Establishment