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Ben Sasse Wins Decisively in Nebraska GOP Senate Primary

Can Sasse bridge the gap between the Tea Party and national Republicans?

12:10 AM, May 14, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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On Tuesday, November 12, Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse walked into Mitch McConnell’s office to clear the air. Contrary to the rumors, Sasse wanted to say, he hadn’t secretly vowed to oppose McConnell’s leadership if elected. In fact, he hadn’t been asked to make such a pledge and would never have even considered it. That was the plan, anyway. As soon as Sasse sat down, McConnell lit into him, criticizing him for working with the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) as well as for posting a viral YouTube video in which he demanded “every Republican in Washington, starting with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to show some actual leadership.”

None of the major players feuding in the Nebraska Senate race are entirely covered in glory here. It was exceedlingly petty for elements of the national GOP to jump into an open Senate primary and oppose an eminently qualified candidate such as Sasse. And while Tea Party groups such as the Senate Conservatives Fund look prescient for championing Sasse -- this might be their only major victory, given that some of the other Senate primary candidates they are championing, such as Matt Bevin in Kentucky and Chris McDaniel in Mississippi, are currently making lackluster showings in the polls.

Ultimately, Sasse the candidate doesn't neatly fit into the Tea Party vs. establishment narrative. Sasse is unlikely to turn his back on his conservative ideals and he's known to be close with Tea Party senator Mike Lee and was also endorsed by Senator Ted Cruz, who's rankled McConnell in the past. But it's also true that, temperamentally and vocationally, all evidence points to the fact that Sasse is more of a problem solver than a firebrand. In fact, Sasse campaign advisors Jordan Gehrke and John Yob issued a memo following his victory tonight emphasizing this:

Conservatives will be thrilled with Ben Sasse as a US Senator if they are looking for a leader who will propose and fight for conservative solutions from a constitutional perspective, but they shouldn’t expect him to adopt an instinctual reaction of ‘no’; nor should they expect that he will go out of his way to annoy establishment GOP leaders. There are certainly times he will take them on as Senator Coburn did a decade ago over earmarks, but he will also choose his battles carefully.

Despite the not-unfounded narrative that the Republican establishment was out to get him, Sasse could prove indispensable to the national GOP from the moment he likely arrives in the Senate next year. His campaign has shown him to be an exceptionally disciplined and effective messenger -- Sasse is likely to prove adept at articulating and advancing Tea Party positions without being needlessly confrontational or controversial. And his unparalled knowledge of health care policy means he's going to arrive in the Senate and hit the ground running.

After enduring a bruising primary and triumphing in an election year when GOP groups have spent three times as much money attacking fellow Republicans as Democrats, it would be no small irony if Sasse ended up being the candidate who helps unite Republicans.

UPDATE:

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