Tea Party a Winner in Nebraska; Two Women to Battle for Senate Seat in West Virginia

Republican Ben Sasse will be favorite to replace Johanns while either Shelley Moore Capito or Natalie Tennant will succeed Rockefeller.

Ben Sasse, republican congressional candidate from Nebraska
National Journal
Andrea Drusch and Jack Fitzpatrick
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Andrea Drusch and Jack Fitzpatrick
May 13, 2014, 7:01 p.m.

A tea-party fa­vor­ite will take on a Demo­crat­ic tri­al law­yer for an open Sen­ate seat in Neb­raska while two wo­men will make his­tory in West Vir­gin­ia fa­cing off for the seat held since 1985 by Sen. Jay Rock­e­feller, a lib­er­al li­on of the Demo­crat­ic Party.

Primary elec­tions in the two states Tues­day also put former Mary­land state le­gis­lat­or Alex Mooney — the top money-raiser in a crowded Re­pub­lic­an field — in the driver’s seat to re­place GOP Rep. Shel­ley Moore Capito in West Vir­gin­ia’s 2nd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict.

Capito eas­ily won the Re­pub­lic­an slot in the race for Rock­e­feller’s Sen­ate seat and will go head-to-head with Sec­ret­ary of State Nat­alie Ten­nant, who won the Demo­crat­ic primary. West Vir­gin­ia voters have nev­er had two wo­men run­ning against each oth­er in a statewide race.

In Neb­raska, Mid­land Uni­versity Pres­id­ent Ben Sas­se — a fa­vor­ite of con­ser­vat­ive out­side groups — won the Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate primary Tues­day night, pav­ing his way to the Sen­ate and giv­ing his al­lies a much-sought vic­tory. Sas­se will take on the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee, at­tor­ney Dav­id Dom­ina, in a Novem­ber race that’s ex­pec­ted to stay in the Re­pub­lic­an column. GOP Sen. Mike Jo­hanns is re­tir­ing at the end of this Con­gress.

Sas­se, the front-run­ner go­ing in­to Tues­day night, earned 45 per­cent of the GOP vote with 12 per­cent of pre­cincts re­port­ing when the As­so­ci­ated Press called the race, less than an hour after the polls closed. Sas­se fended off a last-minute surge from bank pres­id­ent Sid Dinsdale, who was tak­ing 25 per­cent as the race was called. Former Neb­raska state Treas­urer Shane Os­born, the one­time fa­vor­ite, took 23 per­cent.

Once con­sidered a dark-horse can­did­ate among the GOP’s choices to re­place Jo­hanns, Sas­se picked up en­dorse­ments from more than a dozen out­side groups in­clud­ing the Club for Growth, the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, and the Madis­on Pro­ject. In a rare move, an­oth­er group, Freedom­Works, res­cin­ded its en­dorse­ment of Os­born and in­stead gave it to Sas­se, cit­ing Os­born’s per­ceived close­ness with Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell.

In a TV in­ter­view Tues­day, Sas­se said he would vote for Mc­Con­nell to lead the party in the Sen­ate.

In the Moun­tain State, Mooney had 33 per­cent of the vote with 59 per­cent of pre­cincts re­port­ing when AP called the race. Former George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial Char­lotte Lane and phar­macist Ken Reed trailed with 20 per­cent of the vote, and four oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans di­vided the re­mainder.

Mooney will face at­tor­ney Nick Ca­sey, who won the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion to re­place Capito. The dis­trict fa­vors Re­pub­lic­ans (Mitt Rom­ney won there by a 22-point mar­gin in 2012), though Demo­crats hope the loc­al party brand re­mains strong enough to chal­lenge for the seat.

There was no clear fa­vor­ite in the sev­en-can­did­ate Re­pub­lic­an primary race, but Mooney out­spent his op­pon­ents and at­trac­ted out­side spend­ing from groups such as the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund and Cit­izens United. He spent more than $400,000 on the primary race, and he be­nefited from an­oth­er $161,000 in out­side spend­ing sup­port­ing him, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

This was the first House primary for a can­did­ate en­dorsed by Mooney’s highest-pro­file back­er, the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund. The anti­es­tab­lish­ment group, which soun­ded un­happy notes about Capito’s Sen­ate run but couldn’t mount an in­tra-party chal­lenge against her, spent over $60,000 on ra­dio ads back­ing Mooney and an­nounced in a vic­tory state­ment Tues­day night that it had raised $30,000 for him dur­ing the primary.

Op­pon­ents sought to counter Mooney’s spend­ing ad­vant­age by paint­ing him as a car­pet­bag­ger on the hunt for a con­gres­sion­al seat. He con­sidered run­ning for Mary­land’s 6th Dis­trict in 2012 but de­cided against it — and moved to friend­li­er, more con­ser­vat­ive pas­tures in West Vir­gin­ia. Mooney noted that many res­id­ents of West Vir­gin­ia’s east­ern pan­handle have moved there from Mary­land.

While Mooney will be favored against Ca­sey, the com­pet­it­ive and costly Re­pub­lic­an primary means the Demo­crat will start the gen­er­al elec­tion with more money to spend. Be­fore coast­ing through his primary, Ca­sey re­por­ted hav­ing more than $626,000 cash on hand, com­pared with Mooney’s $213,000.

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