Ben Sasse’s exhaustive Nebraska Senate campaign.Sep 22, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 02 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
It was a little disconcerting when Ben Sasse, the man most likely to be Nebraska’s next senator, dropped down and did 60 push-ups. There was almost no warning this was about to happen, and it happened on board the campaign’s RV, aka “The Benebago,” cruising down a lonely road in the western part of the state. One of his campaign staffers joined him in the effort, though with four other people on board, there wasn’t much room for one person to hit the deck, let alone two. Lest anyone think this strange, Sasse’s loyal campaign strategist and push-up partner cracks wise: “We decided it would be awkward if one of us did push-ups, but if two people do it, we’ve created a subculture.”
The truth is that it’s hard to stay in shape in the middle of a political campaign, with the long hours and omnipresent fast food. As for Sasse’s campaign style, well, the push-ups are all part of the plan. Sasse’s Democratic opponent, Dave Domina, is arguably the most prominent trial lawyer in the state and worth somewhere between $20 million and $82 million according to his financial disclosure forms. Everywhere Sasse goes, he promises voters, “We may be outspent, but we will not be outworked.”
Sasse isn’t kidding. He’s vowed to be the only guy in Nebraska history (as far as the campaign can tell) to stump in all 93 counties in a general election. If you’re familiar with Nebraska, what this means for campaign logistics is something between a slog and a waking nightmare. The Benebago hits a motel around 11 that night and is on the road again at 5:30 a.m. so Sasse can gladhand employees punching in at dawn at a Cabela’s distribution center. It only gets more hectic from there. Eleven-and-a-half hours of drive time that day, not counting the campaign stops—a radio interview, two high school football games, a trip to a state park, and several visits to places that can’t be found on Google Maps. Sasse’s RV is chasing down potential voters in counties larger than Rhode Island with populations of just over 1,000.
Sasse’s high-energy strategy appears to be working. A poll that came out September 2 has him up 26 points over Domina, but he’s not taking anything for granted. Last fall, Sasse had 3 percent name ID in the state. His primary opponent, Shane Osborn, had the backing and resources of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. The Omaha World-Herald endorsed Sid Dinsdale, a wealthy businessman. Sasse didn’t run a single negative ad despite being pummeled by his opponents. And then he stunned every observer in the country by capturing 49 percent of the vote in a three-way race, besting Dinsdale by 27 points and winning the vote in 92 of 93 counties.
Sasse didn’t come from nowhere. He’s a two-time Bush appointee, notably a former assistant secretary of health and human services. His health policy knowledge is encyclopedic, and he’s one of the foremost experts on Obamacare. He worked for Boston Consulting Group and has successfully dabbled in private equity. He attended Harvard, Oxford, and Yale. He taught politics at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs. In 2009, at age 37, he became president of Midland University in his hometown of Fremont, Nebraska. The college was on the verge of bankruptcy, and in a few years Sasse reformed tenure, doubled enrollment, and turned it into the fastest-growing college in the Midwest.
Sasse has considerable gifts, to be sure. But it wasn’t his résumé that stunned the political establishment. It was his grit. His work ethic is not in doubt, and his time management strategies are legendary. (Typical email: “Can I call you? I have some time between 11:47 and 11:54.”) Fortunately, Sasse is far from humorless about all this. The Benebago is adorned with tchotchkes from a year’s worth of Nebraska adventures—shotgun shell Christmas lights, a stuffed pheasant on the dash, a Photoshopped poster of Sasse as Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The campaign staffers in tow seem to tolerate Sasse’s mildly insane ideas about campaigning because they like being around him.
1:02 PM, Aug 28, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
The Republican Governors Association is running a new TV ad in Nebraska, attacking the Democratic candidate for governor, Chuck Hassebrook. The ad knocks Hassebrook for supporting Obamacare. Watch it below:
Can Sasse bridge the gap between the Tea Party and national Republicans? 12:10 AM, May 14, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Ben Sasse has just won a decisive victory in the Nebraska Republican Senate primary. As of this writing, the race has been called by the Associated Press and Sasse holds a 27 point lead over his nearest competitor, with 79 percent of precincts reporting. Having clinched the primary win, early polling suggests Sasse will be the likely victor in the general election in November. At 42 years old, Sasse is poised to become the youngest GOP senator.
11:18 AM, May 12, 2014 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
In advance of tomorrow’s Nebraska Republican Senate primary — one of the most hotly contested in the nation — Ben Sasse’s final two television ads note his opposition to Obamacare. The first begins, “Conservatives are rallying in Nebraska against Obamacare and for Ben Sasse,” and it features Sarah Palin speaking in support of Sasse, as well as footage of Ted Cruz, another prominent Obamacare opponent and Sasse supporter. (Paul Ryan, Mike Lee, Rick Santorum, and Tom Coburn have also endorsed Sasse.)
Here’s the ad:
5:04 PM, May 7, 2014 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
Nebraska Senate candidate Shane Osborn seems to have made a habit of, one might say, overreaching during this campaign.
3:05 PM, May 6, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Yesterday, I reported on how a super PAC -- Freedom Pioneers Action Network, started by Mitch McConnell's former campaign manager Justin Brasell -- was flooding Nebraska with outside money to take down Tea Party endorsed Senate candidate Ben Sasse. The primary is just a week away and the Sasse campaign said they expected more attacks this week. Well, here is one of them, and it's ugly:
4:01 PM, May 5, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
With the Nebraska Republican Senate primary a week from tomorrow, outside money is flowing into the state to take down the race's frontrunner, Midland University president Ben Sasse. And the provenance of the money attacking Sasse is especially curious--a super PAC with strong ties to senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
9:34 AM, Apr 23, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Texas senator Ted Cruz has endorsed Ben Sasse in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Nebraska. From the Sasse campaign announcement:
“I have gotten to know Ben Sasse, and while Nebraskans have good choices, Ben is the strongest conservative voice running for United States Senate,” said Sen. Cruz. “Ben will not be just another vote in the Senate – he will be a leader in the fight to stop the Obama agenda and repeal ObamaCare from day one. We need strong reinforcements like him in the United States Senate.”
Poll shows Nebraska senate race is a dead heat. 9:19 AM, Apr 9, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse has been declared "Obamacare's Nebraska Nemesis," and in a new ad Sasse explains why he's personally invested in repealing the law. In 2007, his wife Melissa had an aneurysm followed by an arduous recovery, which left his family with $160,000 in medical bills. Sasse ended up waging a months-long battle against the health insurance system, and Sasse is convinced Obamacare will only make these problems worse:
5:19 PM, Mar 28, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
In a surprising move, the influential Tea Party group FreedomWorks has withdrawn its endorsement of former Nebraska state treasurer Shane Osborn and is now endorsing former Bush administration official and Midland College president Ben Sasse in the GOP Senate primary. According to a statement from Freedomworks president Matt Kibbe:
10:12 AM, Mar 26, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Nebraska Senate Candidate Shane Osborn is a former Navy Lieutenant Commander who was flying a reconnaissance mission in April of 2001 when the EP-3 aircraft he was flying was struck by a Chinese fighter plane. Osborn managed to land the plane safely, but in Chinese territory. This sparked the first of many foreign policy crises during the Bush administration. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for courage and airmanship, and the Meritorious Service Medal for leadership as a result of the episode.
1:02 PM, Mar 23, 2014 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
The Omaha World-Herald has two big stories up today that might impact the hotly contested Nebraska Republican Senate primary between former Bush administration official and Midland College president Ben Sasse and former state treasurer Shane Osborn.