Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A primary to watch

In 2014, Nebraska will have a Senate election to replace the retiring Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE).  In Nebraska, the Senator will likely be a Republican, barring an unforeseen upset.  This is especially true since there is not a declared candidate for the Democratic party. The choices for the Republican primary and basically your Senator if you're from Nebraska, are really between Shane Osborn and Ben Sasse.

Osborn won election to the State Treasurer's office in 2006 by nearly 50 points over the Nebraska party challenger John Gaithings.  While being the state treasurer of Nebraska, he tried to bring more transparency to the state treasurer's office, because that's the biggest problem with the treasurer's office.  Nebraska's government drew by 4.75% during his tenure, but his office cut 12.8% from his budget.  He did this, in part, by cutting two jobs from his office and freezing the salaries of the top seven managers in his office.  In June of 2013, he announced he would be seeking the Senate seat that would be vacated by the retiring Johanns.

Sasse served as chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Policy from 2003 to 2005.  From 2005 to 2006, he was the chief of staff for Representative Jeff Fortenberry's office.  He got a promotion in 2007, to serve as the U.S. assistant secretary of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush until the end of Bush's tenure.  In October of 2009, Sasse was announced as the president of Midland University.  He announced a policy of guaranteeing students would graduate in four years, in 2011.  He attributed the growth of the freshman class in 2012, to this policy.  The Higher Learning Commission, the school's accrediting agency, announced that Midland University was "on notice."  Midland University will have to file final reports to the Higher Learning Commission in 2014.  In October of 2013, Sasse announced that he would be seeking the Senate seat.

Sasse criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in September of 2013 asking McConnell to show real leadership.  He later met McConnell in November, where McConnell reportedly yelled at Sasse.  This might be in part due to the video but is more likely because of an endorsement Sasse won.  The Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF), which has a TEA Party slant to it, is run by Jim DeMint and allies.  The SCF is targeting McConnell and has been critical of him.  The meeting between Sasse and McConnell likely went south because of the endorsement.  Reportedly, McConnell also asked Sasse when he was communicating with the leadership of the SCF.

But these endorsements begin to make things a bit more difficult.  While Sasse was able to get an endorsement from the SCF and another TEA party backed group, the Club for Growth, Osborn picked up his own notable national Republican groups.  FreedomWorks, a conservative group, decided to back Osborn for the primary.  Dick Armey continued his feud with his former organization by deciding to back Sasse.  Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) also decided to back the president of Midland University.  Of course all this meddling in a statewide race could prove to be counterproductive for those supporters.  Current Nebraska Treasurer Don Stenberg lost the 2012 Republican Senate Primary despite being endorsed by the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and the SCF.  Deb Fischer ran in the primary based on the idea that outside groups don't know what's best for Nebraska.  She continued to run on that in the general election.  She continued to hammer Bob Kerrey on his out of state ties, as well as his political allies.  Fischer would have won, most likely, without these attacks.  But they showed the distrust Nebraskans seem to have with the Washington insiders.  Osborn knows how to play this, criticizing Sasse after his Club for Growth endorsement.

It could turn into an interesting primary to watch.  

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