Sasse Opponent Ducks McConnell Questions

by Jonathan Strong

We recently brought you the story of Ben Sasse, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Conservatives Fund, and the Nebraska Senate race. To quickly recap, Sasse has become the most significant collateral damage in McConnell’s war on SCF.

The two had a testy meeting in November and McConnell allies have been quietly work to dry up Sasse’s fundraising. Meanwhile, McConnell’s K Street network has begun donating to Sasse’s chief proponent in the GOP primary, Shane Osborn.

But Osborn, when asked twice on a radio interview in Nebraska whether he backed McConnell for Senate Republican leader, ducked the questions.

Asked whether McConnell is the “right guy to lead the Republican party,” Osborn said on “Drive Time Lincoln with Kevin Thomas” on Lincoln, Nebraska’s KLIN that he sympathizes with McConnell because he has a “tough job.”

“I think he has a tough choice. You know. When you’re in leadership you’re herding cats, so to speak. Right? You’re trying to make everybody happy, and I think so he’s got a tough job,” Osborn said. 

Asked for comment from National Review Online, Osborn deflected the question a third time, saying he’s not focused on leadership races.

“First off, I commend the Republican Senate Caucus, especially Senators Johanns and Fischer, for standing together against the Ryan-Murray budget proposal. I think Senator McConnell and I are both more focused on winning our respective elections in 2014 than any future leadership races. My focus remains on Nebraska voters,” Osborn said.

There’s a bit of hypocrisy on the part of both Nebraskan candidates here. Osborn is relying on McConnell’s help behind the scenes but, seemingly afraid of being tagged as the establishment candidate, won’t publicly back him despite relaying privately that he will vote for McConnell.

Sasse, meanwhile, is running a campaign as an outsider despite having served in Washington, D.C., as an assistant secretary of the Health and Human Services during the George W. Bush administration.

Osborn’s comment is interesting as well because it goes out of its way to refer to the “Ryan-Murray” budget deal. Paul Ryan recently endorsed Sasse, giving him the imprimatur of a conservative icon — but just as said icon was cutting his first major bipartisan accord, angering the Right. Now Nebraska’s two Republican senators are opposed to the deal, giving Osborn a chance to mitigate the damage of Ryan’s Sasse endorsement.  

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