Is History Repeating Itself in Nebraska?

Just as in the state’s 2012 GOP primary, a little-known challenger is making a late surge.

Republican Senate hopeful banker Sid Dinsdale participates in a debate in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, March 11, 2014. x
National Journal
Andrea Drusch
May 12, 2014, 3:34 p.m.

Only in Neb­raska could primary voters have the sur­prise factor to re­ject both the tea party’s darling and a Wash­ing­ton fa­vor­ite in fa­vor of an over­looked can­did­ate run­ning in third place. Now they might do it again.

For most of the cam­paign, two Re­pub­lic­an primary can­did­ates — Mid­land Uni­versity pres­id­ent Ben Sas­se and former state Treas­urer Shane Os­born — gobbled up head­lines, the top of the polls, and the at­ten­tion of more than $3.5 mil­lion in out­side group spend­ing. But the de-facto two-man race has been shattered by loc­al bank pres­id­ent Sid Dinsdale, whose surge in the last two weeks has made him the talk of the state’s primary to re­place re­tir­ing Sen. Mike Jo­hanns.

It’s a story every­one in Neb­raska polit­ics has heard be­fore. Just two years ago, primary voters re­jec­ted the neg­at­ive cam­paigns of two front-run­ning can­did­ates to boost state le­gis­lat­or Deb Fisc­her, then an un­der­dog can­did­ate also run­ning in third place, in­to the U.S. Sen­ate. Once again hit by an in­flux of out­side at­tacks, voters have a sim­il­ar choice.

“It’s what they call Prair­ie Pop­u­lism,” said Neb­raska Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant Phil Young. “Neb­raskans are edu­cated voters, and they don’t like out­side in­terests get­ting in­volved. They can make up their own minds.”

Sas­se re­mains the fa­vor­ite, but strategists in the Cornhusk­er State say Dinsdale has a chance to pull the up­set thanks in part to stay­ing off the air­waves and out of the fray un­til the race’s fi­nal weeks — a de­cision that kept him out of the crosshairs of his op­pon­ents. Sas­se’s cam­paign has tar­geted him more ag­gress­ively of late, re­dir­ect­ing fire that it (and Sas­se’s out­side al­lies) had pre­vi­ously aimed at Os­born. Most of the ad­vert­ising in play this past week has been either for or against Dinsdale.

In a state with no­tori­ously fickle vot­ing habits, Dinsdale is bet­ting his late-break­ing, loc­al cam­paign will ap­peal to a plur­al­ity.

“Neb­raskans know the Dinsdales from the com­munity bank fran­chises and their ag­ribusi­nesses,” said Dinsdale cam­paign strategist Sam Fisc­her (who is also a neph­ew of the state’s ju­ni­or U.S. sen­at­or). He poin­ted to Pin­nacle Bank loc­a­tions across the state as be­ing known for their com­munity in­volve­ment, from bank­ing to sup­port­ing loc­al Little Leagues.  

Dinsdale’s cam­paign is also put­ting his fath­er’s house­hold name to use, fea­tur­ing Roy Dinsdale in some of the cam­paign ads.

Young said that kind of Main Street mes­saging is what res­on­ates with Neb­raskans, not out­side ads.

“It’s a small enough state, you can win a cam­paign with grass­roots here,” Young said. “There’s a lot of oth­er means of mes­saging that carry weight.”

Neb­raska cam­paign con­sult­ant Chris Peterson, who’s un­af­fili­ated in the race, poin­ted to Dinsdale’s in-state fun­drais­ing as an­oth­er in­dic­a­tion that he was play­ing by Neb­raska’s rule book.  

Dinsdale raised nearly $1 mil­lion from with­in the state be­fore chip­ping in with a per­son­al loan of the same amount. He spent the first ma­jor chunk of his cam­paign trav­el­ing the state long be­fore go­ing on air.

Sas­se’s and Os­born’s cam­paigns are both quick to poke holes in the the­ory that Dinsdale could rep­lic­ate Fisc­her’s vic­tory, primar­ily be­cause they al­lege his back­ground and agenda are too mod­er­ate. It’s an ar­gu­ment that out­side groups have echoed in fe­ro­cious, last-minute at­tacks on TV.

“Deb Fisc­her was a 3rd [Con­gres­sion­al] Dis­trict ranch­er, and she’s a con­ser­vat­ive,” said Sas­se ad­viser Jordan Gehrke. “Sid is a mod­er­ate banker from Omaha.”

Gehrke was also skep­tic­al of the idea that the race had reached the levels of neg­at­iv­ity that turned off voters in 2012. The front-run­ners “just ab­so­lutely bludgeoned each oth­er in 2012; their neg­at­ives were both up­side down by Elec­tion Day,” Gehrke said. “Voters didn’t like either one of those guys. That hasn’t happened here.”

Young, who worked on the Fisc­her cam­paign in 2012, said one hitch to the Dinsdale surge may be early voters, who have had bal­lots for nearly 35 days. Those voters would be more likely to have cast bal­lots for Os­born, who was in a stronger po­s­i­tion just a few weeks ago, he said. That’s just one of many is­sues scram­bling the primary in its last days.

What We're Following See More »
‘PULLING A TRUMP’
GOP Budget Chiefs Won’t Invite Administration to Testify
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The administration will release its 2017 budget blueprint tomorrow, but the House and Senate budget committees won’t be inviting anyone from the White House to come talk about it. “The chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees released a joint statement saying it simply wasn’t worth their time” to hear from OMB Director Shaun Donovan. Accusing the members of pulling a “Donald Trump,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the move “raises some questions about how confident they are about the kinds of arguments that they could make.”

Source:
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
1 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
23 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
×