POLITICS: PennAve

Outside groups take credit for Nebraska win, but Ben Sasse is no average Tea Partier

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Politics,Republican Party,Tea Party,Nebraska,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Rebecca Berg,NRSC,Ben Sasse

When Ben Sasse won the Nebraska Senate Republican primary Tuesday night with nearly half of the vote, the conservative groups who endorsed him were quick to celebrate, and to take partial credit.

"Ben Sasse won this race because he never stopped fighting for conservative principles," said Matt Hoskins, the executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which touted its $1.1 million in member contributions and advertising on Sasse's behalf, including $722,000 on two statewide ad buys.

“Congratulations to Ben Sasse, who won a hard-fought primary by building his campaign on the simple idea that Obamacare is a disaster that needs to be repealed,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola echoed in a statement from his group that also touted its $500,000 spent supporting Sasse.

Other groups, including Tea Party Patriots and the Madison Project, heaped on further praise.

Sasse, a candidate who was also endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sarah Palin, is an easy and logical symbol for these conservative groups, many of which have seen few victories in primaries so far this year. And indeed, the conservative money that flowed in for Sasse was a major boon to his bid.

But Sasse is not a clear-cut hero of the right in the mold of Cruz. Sasse took on Shane Osborn, a former Nebraska treasurer, and Sid Dinsdale, a banker, neither of whom proved a particularly formidable fundraiser or campaigner. And Sasse did not take a hard-line anti-establishment stance as a candidate, which conservative groups tend to value.

Recently, for example, Sasse said during an MSNBC interview that he would "absolutely" plan to support Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell as the top Senate Republican should that be the will of the conference.

“I’m a team player and looking forward to supporting whoever our leader is,” Sasse said.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, hailed Sasse's victory in a statement late Tuesday, calling him a "problem solver" and "results-oriented leader.”

Indeed, as Sasse has celebrated his commanding primary victory, after which he is expected to coast through to the general election without a serious Democratic challenge, his team presented him as a new, post-Tea Party kind of conservative candidate whose focus was on running a quality campaign over maintaining ideological purity.

"The lesson of this race is that it is not enough for constitutional conservatives to simply nominate candidates who hold true to Constitutional principles," two of Sasse's campaign advisers, John Yob and Jordan Gehrke, wrote. "We must also nominate candidates who have substantial credibility as candidates, can articulate a vision of what they believe, can propose real solutions to problems, and don’t make significant mistakes on the campaign trail.

They added, "We need conservative candidates, but they must also be skilled candidates in order to win."

Jordan Gehrke, a senior adviser for Sasse, is the brother of Washington Examiner commentary writer Joel Gehrke.

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