Nebraska holds its Senate primary a week from Tuesday. Ben Sasse — National Review cover boy — holds the lead, but it’s possible that this will be the closest and most dramatic GOP Senate-primary finish of 2014.
One poll, out May 1 and conducted by NSON Opinion Strategy for the Tea Party Express, showed Sasse taking 29 percent support among likely GOP primary voters and Shane Osborn taking 27 percent. Sid Dinsdale, the former president of the second-largest bank in Nebraska, comes in third with 13 percent support. Another poll, commissioned by the Sasse campaign, showed Sasse at 31 percent, Osborn at 25 percent, and Dinsdale at 22 percent. Polls in February and earlier put Osborn narrowly ahead and Dinsdale a distant third.
If the Sasse internal is correct, and Osborn is sliding while Dinsdale is rising, it probably reflects a common consequence of negative ads. When Candidate A attacks Candidate B, oftentimes the real beneficiary is Candidate C; this is how John Kerry surprised everyone in Iowa in 2004 after Dick Gephardt threw a ton of negative ads at Howard Dean. A negative ad is probably more likely to do self-inflicted damage when it features the candidate himself making the attack, speaking directly into the camera. (There’s a reason most negative ads feature anonymous gravelly-voiced narrators.)
Backers of Sasse are not warmly welcoming Dinsdale to the race’s upper tier. Erick Erickson of Red State called Dinsdale “Planned Parenthood’s Republican,” first contending that Dinsdale’s daughter served on the board of the group; he later corrected his report, clarifying that Dinsdale’s wife has contributed to groups that fund pro-abortion groups (Komen and Girls, Inc.) but is not on the board of Planned Parenthood. Dinsdale’s sister is on the board of Planned Parenthood.
It is unclear if the actions of the Dinsdale’s relatives will carry serious consequences among pro-life voters; Nebraska Right to Life endorsed all four Republican candidates running, including Dinsdale.
Other aspects of Dinsdale’s record are tougher to classify. As the Omaha World-Herald noted in a profile,
The longtime banker opposes the controversial 2010 financial regulations known as Dodd-Frank. But his Pinnacle Bancorp worked with Congress to modify the bill at a time when other banks were trying simply to kill it or to weaken it considerably.
As Jeffrey Anderson of the Weekly Standard noted, Pinnacle Bancorp PAC donated to Democratic senator Ben Nelson after he voted for Obamacare — while Dinsdale was president of the bank.
That World-Herald profile also noted:
While Dinsdale’s wealth gives him the ability to pour millions of dollars into his race for U.S. Senate, he hasn’t done it yet. With a little over four weeks left in the campaign, Dinsdale has been outspent on the airwaves — but he’s reluctant to pull out his checkbook.
“Doesn’t feel right. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” he says. “I think you have to talk to Nebraskans and get their support.”
That profile piece was dated April 9. As Watchdog.org reported,
The Republican candidate loaned [his Senatorial campaign] $75,000 in late March, and another $925,000 on April 1, according to his pre-primary election report to the Federal Election Commission.
Apparently it “feels right” after all.
Another new wrinkle is a slew of campaign spending — $103,526, to be exact — going after Sasse from Freedom Pioneers Action Network. This is, so far, the only expenditure of this cycle by this group, which was formed in 2012 to help out then–Senate candidate Rick Berg. The PAC’s treasurer is Justin Brasell of Jackson, Miss., a veteran GOP consultant whose past posts include campaign manager at Friends of John Thune and campaign manager at McConnell for Senate back in 2008.
These days Justin Brasell is . . . managing the Senate campaign of Republican Tom Cotton in Arkansas.
The filing detailing the anti-Sasse spending is dated April 30, 2014.
So a campaign manager of one conservative favorite of this cycle, Tom Cotton, is working for a PAC that is attacking one of conservatives’ other favorites of this cycle, Sasse.
The $103K in spending from Freedom Pioneers Action Network is classified as “against Sasse” in official records; there’s some indication the group will spend money on pro-Osborn messages as well. The group’s YouTube account currently has only one video on it; a pro-Osborn ad that can be found here.