The Tea Party and conservative organizations such as the Club for Growth struck gold in the Nebraska Senate primary last night as Midland University president Ben Sasse easily won the GOP nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Mike Johanns (R). The late polling that predicted Sasse pulling away and early front-runner Shane Osborn, the military veteran and former state treasurer, falling all the way to third place proved precisely accurate. Making a charge at the end that was blunted by outside group attack ads in the closing days was wealthy banker and first-time candidate Sid Dinsdale.
Sasse impressively earned 50 percent of the votes, followed by Dinsdale’s distant second-place finish with 22 percent, and Osborn’s 21 percent. Sasse now becomes the overwhelming favorite to win the general election against attorney David Domina, who won the Democratic nomination with two-thirds of the vote.
The governor’s race came down to a one-point margin, as businessman Pete Ricketts slipped past Attorney General Jon Bruning to claim the Republican nomination and an eventual ticket to the state house. Ricketts scored a slim 27-26 percent victory, edging Bruning by approximately 2,200 votes statewide. State Sen. Beau McCoy placed third with 21 percent followed by state Auditor Mike Foley who posted 19 percent. On the Democratic side, former University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook was unopposed for the nomination. He is a decided underdog against Ricketts in the general election.
In House races, veteran Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE-2), who has experienced close calls in two of the past three general elections, was only running in the mid-50s last night, winning renomination with 54 percent of the vote against businessman Dan Frei. State Sen. Brad Ashford easily won the Democratic nomination, breaking 80 percent among his party’s voters. The Omaha district will likely be competitive this fall, particularly with Terry putting forth an underwhelming showing.
In the other primary challenges, representtives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1) and Adrian Smith (R-NE-3) easily won renomination to new terms. Fortenberry topped 85 percent while Smith scored 68 percent.
Statewide, Republican turnout dwarfed that of the Democrats, which was to be expected since all of the meaningful contests were on the GOP side. More than 200,000 voters participated in the Republican primary as compared to just 60,000 who voted the Democratic ballot.
Both US Senate nominations were foregone conclusions in the Mountaineer state. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2) and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) captured the overwhelming share of their respective party votes as predicted. Capito topped 87 percent, while Tennant hit the 80 percent mark. The general election will lean decidedly to Capito, at least in the early going. Since Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) is retiring, converting West Virginia is one of the most important factors in the Republican quest and plan to capture the Senate majority.
In the open 2nd Congressional District, former Maryland state senator and Republican Party chairman Alex Mooney successfully became the Republican nominee in the adjacent state. Mooney scored 36 percent of the vote within the field of seven candidates. Pharmacist Ken Reed was a surprising second, notching 22 percent of the vote, edging former George W. Bush Administration official Charlotte Lane who was viewed to be the early front-runner. Lane tallied just 18 percent, preceding former state Sen. Steve Harrison who registered 11 percent.
On the Democratic side, former West Virginia Democratic Party chairman Nick Casey won a 60-40 percent victory over state Delegate Meshea Poore. While Nebraska Republicans turned out in far greater numbers than Democrats in the nation’s only other primary of the evening, such was not the case in the Mountaineer State. In this district, both parties found virtually the same number of voters going to the polls, approximately 33,000 voters apiece.
If the Democrats are to mount any major challenge to the Republican majority, this Charleston-anchored district is a place that must be contested and potentially converted. Mooney is considered the early favorite, but a competitive race is likely in the offing.
In the 3rd District, veteran Rep. Nick Rahall (D) won a 66 percent victory in his Democratic primary, a race that saw over 45,000 voters cast ballots. He will face state Sen. Evan Jenkins who was unopposed in the Republican primary. This could become one of the premier congressional contests in the nation and ranks near the top of the GOP’s national target list.