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.
In April 2012, two super PACs were formed with the aid of Justin Brasell, who managed McConnell's successful reelection campaign in 2008. One is Bluegrass Votes Super PAC, which “plans to make independent expenditures to support Senator Mitch McConnell’s upcoming re-election campaign [in 2014],” according to Brasell. The other super PAC was the Freedom Pioneers Action Network, which was started to help the ultimately doomed Senate candidacy of former North Dakota representative Rick Berg. (Interestingly, Brasell is currently managing the campaign of Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton.)
Last week, the Freedom Pioneers super PAC spent over $100,000 on online ads and direct mail attacking Sasse -- and many of the negative ads are using quotes that have been criticized by Nebraska newspapers for being taken out of context. Further, that may have just been the beginning. "We expect the Freedom Pioneers super PAC to spend a lot more money attacking us this week," says Sasse campaign advisor Jordan Gehrke.
The motivation behind the ads is suspect for a number of reasons. Sasse, a former Bush administration official, was backed early on by the Senate Conservatives Fund. The Senate Conservatives Fund has ties to former senator and Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint, who is known to have a long simmering feud with McConnell dating back to their days in the Senate together. Though officially the National Republican Senatorial Committee has remained neutral, most observers agree that McConnell used the national party's clout to lend support to Sasse's chief competitor in the race, former Nebraska state treasurer, Shane Osborn. (For a detailed account of the contretemps in the Nebraska senate primary see "A Big Fight Over Small Differences" from the March 24 issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.)
However, the latest round of attacks from the McConnell camp are surprising because the Nebraska GOP primary has become a three-way race. It's been a rough couple of months for Osborn. He made a major misstep by wrongly claiming a memo defending his military record was an official Navy document. He also launched a slew of negative ads against Sasse. The Tea Party group Freedomworks pulled their endorsement of Osborn and endorsed Sasse. As a result, Osborn has been sinking in the polls, and Sid Dinsdale, a wealthy Omaha banker who's self-funding much of his campaign, has been rising. Yesterday, Jeffrey Anderson noted Dinsdale "has pulled within 3 points of Osborn and 9 points of Sasse in recent polling — after trailing each by at least 16 points in polling taken three months ago."
At this point, attempts by McConnell-affiliated groups to bloody Sasse help Dinsdale more than buoy Osborn. When McConnell's groups were directly backing Osborn, it was at least defensible because few primary voters disagree that both Osborn and Sasse have genuine conservative bona fides. (Whether or not the national GOP should be intervening in an open Senate primary instead of leaving it entirely up to voters is another matter.) Sasse's campaign notes that Dinsdale is likable personally but have expressed concern he would be a very moderate Republican senator--he has said he's open to "setting aside" concerns about conservative social issues such as abortion. Furthermore, in 2011 Dinsdale's Pinnacle Bancorp PAC donated money to Nebraska Democratic senator Ben Nelson’s reelection. This donation was well after Nelson was the 60th vote for Obamacare and was the source of national controversy after Democratic leaders promised the federal government would pick up the tab for Medicaid expansion in Nebraska—the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback."
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:
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.
Louisville At the Bullitt County GOP’s Lincoln-Reagan Day dinner on February 6, Kentucky state senator Paul Hornback rose to speak on behalf of U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who was away on business in Washington. McConnell is locked in a bitter primary fight, and it was up to Hornback to convince the party faithful to stick with Mitch.
"Tables turn on the Michigan tea party”; “Business to tea party: Get out of our way”; “Donors Plot Against GOP Rebel”: Judging by the headlines, next year’s Republican primary in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District is shaping up as a referendum on the conservative incumbent’s dogged adherence to his limited-government principles—and a sign of gathering mainstream mobilization against the Tea Party.
The most interesting House primary of the 2014 cycle began in June in the 13th District of Illinois. It pits freshman Republican congressman Rodney Davis against an insurgent candidate named Erika Harold. Davis is a political operative who won his seat last year nearly by accident. Erika Harold is a 33-year-old lawyer. Who happens to have been Miss America.
Maryland governor Martin O'Malley aligned himself with Hillary Clinton, in response to a question about the retiring secretary of state and possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidate in an interview.
“She’s great,” said O’Malley. “I think she’s an outstanding leader, and I think she could be a great president, if she chooses to do it.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is projected to win today's primary in Texas, giving the former Massachusetts governor enough delegates to secure his party's nomination. The presumptive Republican nominee will of course face Democratic President Barack Obama in November's general election.
'Uncommitted' is keeping it closer than expected in the Kentucky Democratic presidential primary. With 104 of 120 counties counted, President Barack Obama leads 'Uncommitted' by only 20 percentage points. The tally so far: Obama with 105,487 votes (or 60.04 percent of the vote), while 'Uncommitted' claims 70,211 votes (or 39.96 percent).
(UPDATE: With 99.8 percent reporting, Barack Obama has 119,245 votes, while 'Uncommitted' has 86,789 votes. That is, Obama has 57.9 percent of the vote, while 'Uncommitted' has 42.1 percent.)
As he sat in a prison cell in Texas, Keith Judd, inmate # 11593-051, was winning 40% of the vote in the West Virginia Democratic primary last week amid whatever fanfare one could receive in such a place.
In the wake of Keith Judd's inspiring showing in the West Virginia Democratic primary, one wonders if there's another state where Democrats could be encouraged to exercise their sovereign right of choice to refuse to rubber stamp the renomination by their party of President Obama.
It turns out the state in question may be Arkansas.
In Carmel, Indiana over the weekend, a supporter of congressional candidate Susan Brooks was caught on video tape stealing campaign signs of opponent David McIntosh:
"It appears that former U.S. Attorney Susan Brooks has resorted to the type of gutter politics that one sees too often in Washington – and which everyone is getting sick of," McIntosh's campaign manager writes in an email, providing a link to this video: