Tea party favorite Ben Sasse won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Nebraska on Tuesday, besting the GOP establishment candidate and staving off a late surge from a self-financed moderate.
The Associated Press called the race less than an hour after polls closed.
Sasse, the president of Midland University, had 45 percent of the vote when the AP called the race. Bank executive Sid Dinsdale carried 25 percent of the vote and state treasurer Shane Osborn — who was once the favorite in the race — had 23 percent.
Sasse, a former Bush administration official, opened up a wide lead in polls down the stretch. He gathered a number of key endorsements: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Club for Growth, the Madison Project and the Senate Conservatives Fund began backing Sasse late last year.
FreedomWorks, the one major grassroots conservative group that initially supported Osborn, switched to Sasse’s camp in March.
Osborn was criticized for the perception that he was too cozy with the GOP establishment.
“At this point, it is clear that Shane Osborn formed allegiances with Mitch McConnell and the K Street lobbying class,” wrote FreedomWorks PAC president Matt Kibbe after the controversial switch. “For us, that progression away from the grassroots has tipped the balance.”
Sasse’s victory will likely mollify tea party supporters and establishment opponents after last week’s North Carolina senate primary. In that race, the establishment-backed Thom Tillis defeated tea party activist Greg Bannon and Baptist minister Mark Harris.
The Tea Party Express, which backed Sasse, touted the victory, saying in a statement that it proved “the Tea Party’s momentum is continuing to roar forward.”
But a memo from two Sasse advisers released late Tuesday focused on the superiority of their candidate.
“The lesson of this race is that it is not enough for constitutional conservatives to simply nominate candidates who hold true to Constitutional principles,” reads the memo titled “Nebraska and the ‘Civil War’ Narrative.”
“We must also nominate candidates who have substantial credibility as candidates, can articulate a vision of what they believe, can propose real solutions to problems, and don’t make significant mistakes on the campaign trail. We need conservative candidates, but they must also be skilled candidates in order to win,” the memo continued.
“Ben is a problem solver who will be a conservative voice in our effort to repeal ObamaCare and bring much needed fiscal sanity to the Senate,” National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Jerry Moran said.
Sasse will face Democratic Omaha attorney Dave Domina in the November general election.