WASHINGTON (AP) — The tea party challenged the Republican establishment on Tuesday in a Nebraska Senate primary showdown complicated by a surging third candidate.
The tea party, outside conservative groups and two of the right's heroes — Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz — have rallied behind Ben Sasse, the president of Midland University. For months, Sasse has been locked in an increasingly negative race with former state treasurer Shane Osborn, who has the backing of the Washington establishment and allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
In recent weeks, Sid Dinsdale, the president of Pinnacle Bank, has sought to capitalize on the Sasse-Osborn fight and produce a surprise outcome similar to Republican Sen. Deb Fischer's come-from-behind win in 2012.
Sasse has the backing of Club for Growth, the Tea Party Patriots, the Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks in his bid to replace Republican Sen. Mike Johanns, who is retiring after a single six-year term.
Sasse has focused on his conservative credentials, opposition to abortion, support for gun rights and goal of repealing and replacing the health care law.
In one 30-second ad, Sasse's two young daughters, Alex and Corrie, talk about how much their dad opposes the Affordable Care Act. "He wants to destroy it," says one daughter. "He despises it," says the other.
Outside groups and the candidates have spent millions on the race in which the GOP winner is widely expected to prevail in November in a state where Obama won just 38 percent of the vote in 2012.
Trial lawyer Dave Domina faces Larry Marvin in the Democratic primary.
The tea party has struggled this year as candidates have lost to establishment favorites in Texas, North Carolina and Ohio, and Nebraska stands as the insurgent movement's best remaining shot. Looking ahead to upcoming primaries, the tea party's chances to upset incumbents have been diminishing in Kentucky, Kansas, Idaho and Mississippi.
The Republican establishment has a love-hate relationship with the tea party. It welcomed the movement's energy that propelled the GOP to control of the House in the 2010 elections, but it blames tea partyers for less-than-viable general election candidates in 2010 and 2012 Senate races in Indiana, Colorado, Nevada and Delaware.
Republicans in the capital remain convinced they could have won control of the Senate if only their establishment candidates had won more primaries, and some in the party have been determined to defeat the movement's candidates this election.