It’s not easy to pile up more than 20,000 sheets of paper — the number of pages of regulations associated with Obamacare, according to some estimates. Yet it’s an effective prop for Ben Sasse, a Republican running for Senate in Nebraska. “This is a picture of what government can’t do well, wasn’t built to do, and inevitably fails at,” he says, gesturing toward the tower of paper. At full height, the pages stand more than nine feet tall. On the evening of December 17, in the First National Bank of Holdrege with its eight-foot ceiling, the top segment has to rest on a nearby table. “Government this big squashes freedom,” says Sasse. A man in the audience senses a more imminent threat: “I’m hoping that stack doesn’t fall on you!” It stays up during an hour-long town-hall meeting in part because a pipe runs through the middle of the pages like a spine, holding them together. Aides wheel the contraption around on a dolly and store it in the bowels of the campaign’s RV.
Sasse is betting that deep discontent with Obamacare will drive him into the Senate later this year. Nebraska is all but certain to elect a Republican to succeed retiring GOP senator Mike Johanns, so the state’s main election will take place on May 13, when Sasse squares off against banker Sid Dinsdale, former state treasurer Shane Osborn, and two other Republicans in this year’s first truly contested Senate primary. Between now and then, each candidate will position himself as a conservative and rail against Obamacare. With Sasse, however, Nebraska Republicans have an opportunity to do more: They can elect not merely a man who promises to vote for the repeal of President Obama’s signature policy achievement, but a senator who almost immediately would become one of the GOP’s most visible and articulate experts on the health-care law’s defects and the ways to replace it.