The Magazine

A Virtuoso Pol from Nebraska?

Ben Sasse eyes the open Senate seat.

Jun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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“The greatness of America is the greatness of the American people,” he continues, “not the greatness of centralized bureaucracies in Washington, D.C. Why is Washington, D.C., a boomtown when the rest of the country has economic despair? Why are housing prices going up in D.C. when everywhere else in the world they’ve had a horrible five years? The federal government ain’t feeling the pain. They just keep on growing.”

If Sasse’s nonexistent-bordering-on-nascent campaign has a theme, it’s protecting “Nebraska values” from Washington. When it comes to touting his educational accomplishments, Sasse realizes his own criticism of “rock-star virtuosos” might be made of him. To the extent he’s been able to carry out his vision, he insists it’s because the community surrounding Midland dug deep financially and otherwise to support the school.

Considering Sasse’s reputation as a hyperachiever, some might dismiss this as faux humility. But it’s also true that Fremont, Nebraska, feels at times like the backdrop in a Frank Capra movie. The town has roughly five times the number of churches as coffee shops. Students at Midland attend the football game on weekends, and after the game they walk across the street to sit in vinyl booths at the Nifty Fifties diner and order slices of pie out of a rotating display case.  

In the meantime, Sasse isn’t just preparing for his “listening tour.” He’s keeping his options open, as demonstrated by the fact he’s attempting to rescue yet another college. Just down the road in Blair, Nebraska, is Dana College, another small Lutheran liberal arts college that shut its doors three years ago, leaving $80 million worth of buildings empty. Sasse led a group of investors that bought it out of bankruptcy for a song. He likes to drive visitors up to the 150 acres overlooking the Missouri River valley in his pickup truck and lay out his plans for the place. If all goes well, Dana College will share the same administrative infrastructure as Midland and reopen its doors in the next few years. 

Sasse may also have to contend with a competitive GOP primary: Former Nebraska state treasurer Shane Osborn has already announced he’s running for the Senate, and there’s talk of other candidates emerging. Still, Sasse remains undaunted. He’s only 41, and he’s already been successful at high levels of business, government, and academia. If Sasse does decide to run for the Senate, at this point in his life he’s got a lot to offer and not much to lose. 

Mark Hemingway is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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