Why GOP Senate Candidates Shouldn’t Be Arguing About McConnell Now

There’s been a lot of discussion — perhaps too much discussion — about Ben Sasse’s statement that he could “absolutely” vote for Mitch McConnell as GOP leader in the Senate if, as expected, he wins in November.

Theoretically, Mitch McConnell may not even be in the Senate next year; his lead in the polls in Kentucky against Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes is pretty slim lately. But let’s assume a longtime Republican incumbent with enormous resources and the ability to call in favors from just about anybody in the GOP wins a midterm election in Kentucky, which is usually a pretty safe bet.

At a gathering of Republicans in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, last month, Senator Tim Scott was asked whether he would support McConnell. Scott smiled and said, “I’m going to dodge that question,” — laughter from the audience — “and let me tell you why I’m going to dodge that question: Right now, I don’t know who’s going to be running for leader.”

Few would argue that Tim Scott is a RINO; for many reasons, public declarations of support for a GOP Senate leader in January 2015 are a lousy measuring stick for squish-itude. First, a reminder of who’s running the Senate these days:

Way to go, Nevada. Way to go.

How do you like Mitch McConnell? Well, compared to whom? Any conservative who scoffs, “anyone would be better than McConnell!” hasn’t thought the prospects through very well.

Paraphrasing a good monologue from Jay Nordlinger, conservatives used to lament that Senate minority leader Howard Baker was too soft, and that they needed a leader who was tougher, like Bob Dole. Then Dole disappointed them, and they felt refreshed and reassured at the prospect of Trent Lott. Several gargantuan, pork-laden appropriations cycles later, they warmed to the prospect of Bill Frist . . . and you can see where this is going.

The Senate Republican leader is never the most conservative member of the caucus, and the most conservative member of the caucus will never be the Senate Republican leader. Full stop. It’s the nature of the job; you have to be elected by a majority of your caucus and your role is, ideally, to lead the whole caucus and ideally be trusted by that whole caucus. A party leader has to build consensus, and it’s almost impossible to do if you’re defined yourself through your career at one extreme of the party (say, Susan Collins) or the other (say, Tom Coburn, lifetime ACU rating of 98).

Secondly, the most conservative member of the GOP Senate caucus very rarely wants to run for majority leader. One of the key roles as party leader is to negotiate with leaders of the opposite party and get the best deal you can. When you’re not in negotiations, it’s easy — and, admittedly, sometimes accurate — to say drawing a harder line could have gotten a better deal. Once you’re the leader doing the negotiating, you have the task of arguing that the half of loaf you’ve secured is the biggest fraction of the bread anyone could get — and now some other young whippersnapper is saying he could have gotten a better deal.

Maybe some other Senate Republican will challenge McConnell as leader in January 2015. Maybe (probably) not. There will be more time to worry about and debate this after Election Day — when we know whether or not Republicans will be selecting a Senate majority leader.

Tags: Ben Sasse , Harry Reid , Mitch McConnell

Ben Sasse Cruises to a GOP Primary Win

From the midweek Morning Jolt:

Ben Sasse Cruises to a GOP Primary Win; Technical Formality of General Election Will Be Held in November

Hey, remember everything I said about the risk Republicans take by nominating Sid Dinsdale to be their Senate nominee in Nebraska?

Yeah, never mind. By 10 p.m. Tuesday night, the Associated Press called the primary for Ben Sasse. This morning we see Sasse won nearly 50 percent in a four-way race. As the Hotline’s Josh Kraushaar noted, after Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and now Sasse, National Review has the reverse Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

This morning you’re seeing some folks celebrating this result as a win for the Tea Party over the Establishment, and while that’s not quite wrong, the usual lines were a little blurred. Sasse went to Harvard, Oxford and Yale; already worked on Capitol Hill; and President Bush appointed him as assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

His first prominent rival, Shane Osborn, had a distinguished military record; he was the pilot on that plane that the Chinese forced down at the beginning of the Bush administration. Osborn probably immolated himself by going negative and delivering the negative message personally.

Dinsdale was the wealthy banker running as the outsider, but his bank had helped nudge Ben Nelson to support Dodd-Frank. Maybe not the worst sin for a GOP candidate, but a reason to be wary of the guy who’s touting himself as a pragmatist who can reach a deal.

Sasse’s win is good news for conservatives and it’s very good news for National Review. Sasse ran ads featuring the NR cover early to establish his conservative bona fides. Besides being a heavy favorite in November, Sasse is very much a health-policy wonk, who will have something to say on Obamacare beyond “repeal it, it stinks.”

Tags: Ben Sasse , Nebraska

Why Conservatives Have Well-Founded Doubts About Sid Dinsdale

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why Conservatives Have Well-Founded Doubts About Sid Dinsdale

Nebraska Republicans pick their Senate and gubernatorial nominees today; a lot of conservatives outside the state will be watching the Senate primary results closely.

To a lot of grassroots conservatives, President Obama and his allies are about as bad as it gets. They’ve managed to steer the country pretty darn far down the wrong path in the past five-and-a-half years. They’re wildly ambitious, shamefully arrogant, politically ruthless and dangerously close to, as President Obama put it (perhaps by accident) “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

To many of America’s apolitical folk, the fury of the conservative grassroots is a bewildering, not-quite-rational, discomfort-inducing overreaction – or at least it was. But the evidence is starting to pile up, and Obama’s approval rating continues to slide and sputter.

Obama and his allies will promise the moon –  “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan!” – and then deliver the opposite, and then shrug off the complaints as naysayers. If a part of a law becomes politically inconvenient, they’ll ignore it.

They’ll talk about the need for open government and then be more secretive than any preceding administration. They’ll talk about the need for clean government and then go to unprecedented lengths to reward donors.

They’re just flat-out nasty. IRS abuses. Lying to the American public about the cause of the Benghazi attack. Presiding over an out-of-control NSA that makes a mockery of the Fourth Amendment. Attempting – and perhaps succeeding – in intimidating Supreme Court justices. They do what they want and attack anyone who stands in their way. “Don’t think we’re not keeping score, brother.”

This is why a lot of Republicans aren’t interested in a deal with President Obama on immigration. They simply don’t trust him to keep his end of the bargain once the bill is signed into law. They’re not willing to go along with any Obama plan that requires GOP concessions now in exchange for Obama concessions later.

This conservative grassroots distrust developed early – “All statements from Barack Obama come with an expiration date, all of them” and so the backlash against Republicans who sought to make a deal with Obama came early and furiously: Arlen Specter. Charlie Crist. Dick Lugar.

Now there’s Sid Dinsdale. He may not deserve a spot alongside Specter and Crist, but there’s some past evidence to suggest that Dinsdale’s willing to make a deal with the administration. If an article from American Banker from December 2010 is correct, Dinsdale’s bank helped persuade Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a Democrat, to sign on to the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill. (The law’s a mess, and only about half its regulations have been written, four years after its passage.) The president of the bank said at the time that because Congress was certain to pass a banking regulation bill, they preferred to have a hand in shaping it rather than fighting it every step of the way.  For what it’s worth, Dinsdale denies personally lobbying Nelson. However, a lot of conservatives have a hard time believing that Dinsdale’s bank would expend much effort lobbying for a policy result he strongly opposed.

The Omaha World-Herald, endorsing Dinsdale, stated he was a “pragmatist” and saluted his willingness to reach out to the other side of the aisle. Yes, that’s precisely what a lot of conservatives fear; sometimes no deal is better than a bad deal.

Apparently Dinsdale has a shot at winning today:

Sasse remains the favorite, but strategists in the Cornhusker State say Dinsdale has a chance to pull the upset thanks in part to staying off the airwaves and out of the fray until the race’s final weeks—a decision that kept him out of the crosshairs of his opponents. Sasse’s campaign has targeted him more aggressively of late, redirecting fire that it (and Sasse’s outside allies) had previously aimed at Osborn. Most of the advertising in play this past week has been either for or against Dinsdale.

In a state with notoriously fickle voting habits, Dinsdale is betting his late-breaking, local campaign will appeal to a plurality.

“Nebraskans know the Dinsdales from the community bank franchises and their agribusinesses,” said Dinsdale campaign strategist Sam Fischer (who is also a nephew of the state’s junior U.S. senator). He pointed to Pinnacle Bank locations across the state as being known for their community involvement, from banking to supporting local Little Leagues.  

Dinsdale’s campaign is also putting his father’s household name to use, featuring Roy Dinsdale in some of the campaign ads.

Young said that kind of Main Street messaging is what resonates with Nebraskans, not outside ads.

“It’s a small enough state, you can win a campaign with grassroots here,” Young said. “There’s a lot of other means of messaging that carry weight.”

NR’s enthusiasm for Sasse is clear. If Dinsdale wins the primary tonight, he would be the heavy favorite in November; if elected, he would still be a Nebraska Republican and he would probably vote the right way most of the time. But there would still be that nagging doubt that he might want to reach a deal with an administration that so many conservatives find impossible to trust.

The man is behind the bank, and the bank is behind the man.

Tags: Ben Sasse , Sid Dinsdale , Nebraska

What to Watch For in Nebraska and West Virginia Tomorrow

Also from today’s Morning Jolt, which you would have by now if you were a subscriber:

GOP Primary Voters Feeling Sasse-y in Nebraska

Nebraska and West Virginia hold their primaries tomorrow.

The title fight in GOP circles is the fight in Nebraska’s GOP Senate primary, with not a heck of lot of polling so far. For what it’s worth, here is the most recent poll, one from a reliable pollster but contracted by an organization with a dog in the fight:

The Magellan Strategies poll of 525 likely Republican voters was conducted May 8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. The poll was conducted one day after Bruning received endorsements from Gov. Dave Heineman and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert. The results were posted online by the Legacy Foundation Action Fund, a group supporting Sasse.

In the Senate race, Sasse received the support of 38 percent of respondents, well ahead of banker Sid Dinsdale’s 24 percent. One-time front-runner Shane Osborn, a former Nebraska state treasurer, had 20 percent. Attorney Bart McLeay brought up the rear with 6 percent.

The undercard fight is the battle for the GOP nomination for governor; the crowded field includes state attorney general Jon C. Bruning, state senator Tom Carlson, Auditor of Public Accounts Mike Foley, state senator Beau McCoy, former Ameritrade COO J. Peter “Pete” Ricketts, and lawyer Bryan Slone.

From that May 8 poll:

In the governor’s race, Ricketts received the support of 25 percent of survey respondents, while Bruning received 24 percent — well within the margin of error. State Auditor Mike Foley, meanwhile, trailed with 18 percent and State Sen. Beau McCoy won the backing of 16 percent. Bryan Slone and Tom Carlson rounded out the pack, with both earning 5 percent.

West Virginia’s Senate primaries won’t be as exciting:

The outcome in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, (D., W.Va.) — a showdown between Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Secretary of State Natalie Tennant — is all but certain. And on the state level, among the six Northern Panhandle delegate districts, only two —the 3rd and 4th — feature contested primaries.

In fact, there’s some argument that the general election won’t be all that exciting, either. Stu Rothenberg of Roll Call concludes, “I don’t currently see a path for West Virginia Democrat Natalie Tennant.”

Tags: Nebraska , Ben Sasse , Sid Dinsdale , Shane Osborn , West Virginiia

Sharp Elbows as Nebraska Republicans Approach Primary Day

Nebraska holds its Senate primary a week from Tuesday. Ben Sasse — National Review cover boy — holds the lead, but it’s possible that this will be the closest and most dramatic GOP Senate-primary finish of 2014.

One poll, out May 1 and conducted by NSON Opinion Strategy for the Tea Party Express, showed Sasse taking 29 percent support among likely GOP primary voters and Shane Osborn taking 27 percent. Sid Dinsdale, the former president of the second-largest bank in Nebraska, comes in third with 13 percent support. Another poll, commissioned by the Sasse campaign, showed Sasse at 31 percent, Osborn at 25 percent, and Dinsdale at 22 percent. Polls in February and earlier put Osborn narrowly ahead and Dinsdale a distant third.

If the Sasse internal is correct, and Osborn is sliding while Dinsdale is rising, it probably reflects a common consequence of negative ads. When Candidate A attacks Candidate B, oftentimes the real beneficiary is Candidate C; this is how John Kerry surprised everyone in Iowa in 2004 after Dick Gephardt threw a ton of negative ads at Howard Dean. A negative ad is probably more likely to do self-inflicted damage when it features the candidate himself making the attack, speaking directly into the camera. (There’s a reason most negative ads feature anonymous gravelly-voiced narrators.)

Backers of Sasse are not warmly welcoming Dinsdale to the race’s upper tier. Erick Erickson of Red State called Dinsdale “Planned Parenthood’s Republican,” first contending that Dinsdale’s daughter served on the board of the group; he later corrected his report, clarifying that Dinsdale’s wife has contributed to groups that fund pro-abortion groups (Komen and Girls, Inc.) but is not on the board of Planned Parenthood. Dinsdale’s sister is on the board of Planned Parenthood.

It is unclear if the actions of the Dinsdale’s relatives will carry serious consequences among pro-life voters; Nebraska Right to Life endorsed all four Republican candidates running, including Dinsdale.

Other aspects of Dinsdale’s record are tougher to classify. As the Omaha World-Herald noted in a profile,

The longtime banker opposes the controversial 2010 financial regulations known as Dodd-Frank. But his Pinnacle Bancorp worked with Congress to modify the bill at a time when other banks were trying simply to kill it or to weaken it considerably.

As Jeffrey Anderson of the Weekly Standard noted, Pinnacle Bancorp PAC donated to Democratic senator Ben Nelson after he voted for Obamacare — while Dinsdale was president of the bank.

That World-Herald profile also noted:

While Dinsdale’s wealth gives him the ability to pour millions of dollars into his race for U.S. Senate, he hasn’t done it yet. With a little over four weeks left in the campaign, Dinsdale has been outspent on the airwaves — but he’s reluctant to pull out his checkbook.

“Doesn’t feel right. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” he says. “I think you have to talk to Nebraskans and get their support.”

That profile piece was dated April 9. As Watchdog.org reported,

The Republican candidate loaned [his Senatorial campaign] $75,000 in late March, and another $925,000 on April 1, according to his pre-primary election report to the Federal Election Commission.

Apparently it “feels right” after all.

Another new wrinkle is a slew of campaign spending — $103,526, to be exact — going after Sasse from Freedom Pioneers Action Network. This is, so far, the only expenditure of this cycle by this group, which was formed in 2012 to help out then–Senate candidate Rick Berg. The PAC’s treasurer is Justin Brasell of Jackson, Miss., a veteran GOP consultant whose past posts include campaign manager at Friends of John Thune and campaign manager at McConnell for Senate back in 2008.

These days Justin Brasell is . . . managing the Senate campaign of Republican Tom Cotton in Arkansas.

The filing detailing the anti-Sasse spending is dated April 30, 2014.

So a campaign manager of one conservative favorite of this cycle, Tom Cotton, is working for a PAC that is attacking one of conservatives’ other favorites of this cycle, Sasse.

The $103K in spending from Freedom Pioneers Action Network is classified as “against Sasse” in official records; there’s some indication the group will spend money on pro-Osborn messages as well. The group’s YouTube account currently has only one video on it; a pro-Osborn ad that can be found here.

Tags: Ben Sasse , Shane Osborn , Sid Dinsdale

New Poll: Sasse Leads Tough Three-Way Fight in Nebraska

Out in Nebraska, Ben Sasse’s campaign for U.S. Senate commissioned another poll. The numbers:

Ben Sasse: 31 percent.

Shane Osborn: 25 percent.

Sid Dinsdale: 22 percent.

Bart McLeay: 5 percent.

Clifton Johnson: 3 percent.

Undecided: 14 percent.

They’re all pretty close together in terms of favorability — 57.8 percent for Sasse, 55.9 percent for Osborn, and 54.1 percent for Dinsdale — but there’s a more significant difference in the unfavorable numbers: 18.4 percent for Sasse, 25.8 percent for Osborn, 12 percent for Dinsdale. The Sasse campaign contends the high unfavorable number for Obsborn stems from recent negative television ads. The sample size is 507 respondents; the poll was conducted from Saturday through Monday. The only other poll, from February, also showed a small Sasse lead, but Dinsdale appears to be gaining ground.

Two weeks to go until the primary; the GOP primary winner will be a heavy favorite in the November general election.

Tags: Ben Sasse , Shane Osborn , Sid Dinsdale , Nebraska

NR’s Sasse Cover, Now Playing on Nebraska Television Screens

You’ve probably seen John J. Miller’s NR cover story on Ben Sasse, the conservative Republican running for the open Senate seat in Nebraska. The Sasse campaign is making sure Nebraskans see it on their television screens:

Another fanciful ad imagined moving the capital of the United States to Nebraska, “so Congress can experience family, conservative values, and living within in a budget”:

The current front-runner in the Senate campaign, former state treasurer Shane Osborn, has a PAC that is running its own “six-figure” ad campaign, featuring this biographical ad, which focus upon Osborn’s military service, particularly his piloting a crippled Navy surveillance aircraft and its 23-member crew to a safe landing on a Chinese island in 2001 and then spending twelve days in captivity.

Jordan Gehrke, a senior adviser to the Sasse campaign, said the campaign is spending $200,000 on an early television-ad buy, both broadcast and cable, which can go pretty far in Nebraska’s relatively inexpensive markets. Gehrke said the campaign is also pleased that a five-minute YouTube video has gotten 34,000 views inside the state of Nebraska.

There are currently five Republicans running for governor in Nebraska and five Republicans running for the U.S. Senate. With nominal Democratic opposition, the Republican primary winners are expected to triumph in November. Some of those statewide candidates have indicated a willingness to self-fund, or at least make significant loans to their campaigns, meaning the airwaves will be crowded as the May primary approaches.

“There’s going to be so much clutter at the very end, it’s going to be very hard to break through,” Gehrke said, explaining the early ad buy. The ad campaign will go on for two and a half weeks.

Osborn is significantly ahead of the pack, at least according to internal polls his campaign has released, from back in October:

An internal survey from former Nebraska state Treasurer Shane Osborn shows him leading the Republican primary for the state’s open Senate seat.

The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for Osborn’s campaign, gives him 39 percent of the vote, while the other three candidates take single-digit support.

Midland University President Ben Sasse, a Tea Party favorite who last week received the endorsement of the Senate Conservatives Fund, ties banker Sid Dinsdale with 7 percent support. Attorney Bart McLeay takes 1 percent support.

Tags: Ben Sasse , Shane Osborn

Tags: Ben Sasse