Midland University President Ben Sasse, a favorite of conservative outside groups, won the Republican Senate primary in Nebraska Tuesday night, paving his way to the Senate and giving his allies a much-sought victory.
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 had 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 retiring Sen. Mike 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 In a rare move, another group, FreedomWorks, rescinded its endorsement of Osborn and instead gave it to Sasse, citing Osborn's perceived closeness with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.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.
Many of the same groups backing Sasse have also lent their support to other conservative outsiders, such as businessman Matt Bevin in Kentucky and physician Greg Brannon in North Carolina, but as their prospects fizzled out (Brannon lost his primary last week and Bevin is way behind in recent polling), Sasse became their best hope to snare a Senate seat this election year.
Those groups accounted for nearly $2.5 million of the $3 million in outside spending that flowed into the state before the primary, which helped tip the balance of TV advertising in Sasse's favor toward the end of the campaign.
Sasse will take on the Democratic nominee, attorney David Domina, in a November race that's expected to stay in the Republican column.