POLITICS: Campaigns

Primary guide: GOP civil war or quality control?

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Politics,Chris Stirewalt,Campaigns,Power Play

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Don’t believe the hype. The Nebraska Senate primary today is being cast as another installment in the battle between the Republican Senate leadership and the tea-party coalition trying to brush back Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. And that’s true… but only up to a point. Insurgent candidate Ben Sasse, a former Bush administration health policy wonk who helped turn around a struggling Nebraska college after leaving Washington, headed into today’s voting with what scanty polling suggests is the lead and the momentum. Those who plunder the corpses left by Republican civil wars for fun and profit are already casting Sasse’s potential victory as revenge for an establishment candidate’s victory last week in North Carolina. But Sasse has been quite good at running for Senate. His tea-party backed counterpart in North Carolina, however, was not. Much the same can be said of conservative crusaders in Mississippi, Georgia, Kansas and certainly in McConnell’s own Kentucky. Conversely, base-buoying candidates are doing just fine in places like Oklahoma, Iowa and Michigan.

[The last polls will close in Nebraska at 9 p.m. ET.]

Chickens counted, not hatched - So who cares which very conservative candidate wins a Nebraska primary in which fewer than 200,000 votes may be cast? The seat is safely Republican and either Sasse or the frontrunner he supplanted, former state Treasurer Shane Osborn, would have a nearly identical voting record in the Senate. The only ones who really care are those who are already counting votes for leadership posts in an imagined Republican majority next year. McConnell is all but certain to retain his position atop the heap if he survives a stiff Democratic challenge this fall, but when it comes to other posts in the leadership team and, more importantly, deciding which strategies the party would pursue, loyalties count. Sasse, supported by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would not go along to get along. Osborn, who has paid his dues in the party and is backed by McConnell loyalists, would likely be a reliable vote for Team Mitch. This jockeying for future Senate scrimmages has no doubt made the race uglier and far more expensive than necessary, but hey, politics is a tough business. Sometimes you husk, sometimes you get husked.

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Chris Stirewalt
FOX News