Today’s Nebraska GOP Senate Primary May Not Follow Usual Script

What’s a primary day without talking about the dramatic Tea Party vs. Establishment feuds going on in the Republican Party?

Today’s primary in Nebraska, however, is more nuanced, as the leading candidates are just about equally conservative.  There’s more to it than what we’ve seen in other states.

The story line from the beginning fit neatly into the GOP family feud narrative.  With Sen. Mike Johanns (R) retiring after just one term, the Republican battle to replace him was a familiar one: Shane Osborn, the former state treasurer backed by the establishment, vs. Ben Sasse, the president of Midland University and former Bush administration official who has picked up the backing of Ted Cruz and many tea party groups.  Osborn, thought to be Mitch McConnell’s personal choice, started out as the presumptive favorite but Sasse has made huge gains in recent weeks, mostly on the strength of a tough negative ad campaign that has questioned Osborn’s integrity.  But Osborn has the support of some tea party groups as well.

Can he pull a Deb Fischer?
Can he pull a Deb Fischer?

Enter Sid Dinsdale.  The Omaha banker has been spending freely, hoping that the acrimony between Osborn and Sasse will propel him over the finish line.  Reports out of Nebraska suggest Dinsdale has the momentum.

It’s something we’ve seen before.  Deb Fischer won the Nebraska GOP Senate primary in 2012 after her two better known rivals, “establishment” choice Jon Bruning and conservative favorite Don Stenberg, beat each other up and allowed her to win.  Another instance was the 1992 Democratic Senate primary in Illinois, won by Carol Moseley Braun after voters apparently were turned off by the acrimony between incumbent Alan Dixon and Al Hofeld.

Of course, one difference is that Dinsdale is not coming out of nowhere; the Sasse campaign has already observed his rise in the polls and has thus focused its arrows at him in recent days, depicting him as a closet liberal.

The Democratic nominee will be David Domina.  But the winner of the GOP primary is the likely next senator.  Polls close at 9 pm Eastern time.

There’s also interest in the Republican gubernatorial primary to succeed Dave Heineman (R), who is term limited.  The six-candidate Republican field is led by businessman/2006 Senate nominee Pete Ricketts and state Attorney General Bruning, and that race has turned personal and nasty as well.  The Democratic nominee will be former University of Nebraska regent Chuck Hassebrook.

And don’t forget West Virginia; the state is also holding a primary today.  As noted in our May primary guide, no state has gone longer without electing a Republican to the Senate.  But we won’t need today’s primaries to know who the Senate nominees will be in the race to succeed retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller.  Rep. Shelley Moore Capito will be the Republican nominee and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant will be the Democratic standard bearer.

The race to watch in the Mountain State is in the 3rd CD, which is being vacated by Capito.  It features a seven-candidate GOP race that includes former state Sen. Steve Harrison, pharmacist Ken Reed, ex-International Trade Commission official Charlotte Lane and former Maryland state Sen. Alex Mooney.  Mooney is thought to have an edge.  Nick Casey, the former state Democratic Party chair, is the favorite for his party’s nomination.  Polls close at 7:30 pm Eastern.

Check out Twitter this evening for live primary updates @kenrudin.

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