Ben Sasse blew away the competition in the Nebraska U.S. Senate race last night. He nearly
doubled matched the vote total of all of his opponents and will cruise to victory over Democrat Dave Domina in November.
So how did the unknown Sasse drive his RV to such a huge victory?
Credit has to be given first to the candidate and his campaign. From the start, everyone who we talked to noted that Sasse was a smart person and a smart campaigner. He never went off message. Ever.
You will note that the knocks at Sasse all came from speeches he gave prior to being a candidate.
But while a candidate? It was all “We must replace ObamaCare.” “We must first secure the border.”
There were zero cracks in his message.
Then there was his campaign ground game. You can read the personal assessment of this in a memo from the campaign’s two Michigan consultants, John Yob and Jordan Gehrke. In it they talk about their grassroots plan, townhalls, digital strategy and longform videos. Those were all very important factors in Sasse’s victory.
But a curious note in the summary is about the “Independent Expenditures” — except they are not referred to as that:
Support from Senate Conservatives Fund, Club for Growth, Citizens United, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Sarah Palin, Tea Party Express, and other conservative groups was critical to winning;
Yes, the “support” was critical.
“Support” in terms of TWO and a HALF MILLION DOLLARS in Independent Expenditures was critical.
Support, where those outside groups tore Shane Osborn and Sid Dinsdale extra orifices did help just a tad for Sasse. Support that, because they were independent expenditures, Sasse was able to deny any association with.
Though we can’t blame the consultants for wanting to spin things their direction. On this day after the election more than one Tea Party org wants to take credit. Political writer Molly Ball has a better handle on it, when she talks about the fact that Sasse wasn’t as much a Tea Party candidate, as he was simply a strong candidate — stronger than the other three.
Sasse wasn’t any more Tea Party than Shane Osborn was. But Sasse was absolutely a better candidate.
When we talk about the Undecideds above, they were there. But after the negative campaigns waged by those noted “Support” groups, the Undecideds weren’t going to turn towards Osborn and Dinsdale.
Of course Osborn and Dinsdale brought much of that upon themselves and the billionaire groups just jumped at it.
As Sasse was gaining ground — with the question of whether Osborn should have killed himself and his crew instead of landing his plane in China, which he showed was within accepted Navy practices — Osborn fudged up royally.
Osborn had the past 13 years to get some sort of official document that showed landing his Navy plane in China was within Navy rules. Instead, he made a ham-fisted, last second grab at a something, and tried to pass it off as official.
Was this entirely his fault? Possibly not. It is possible he did not even realize that it was less than up and up. But if he didn’t know, he SHOULD have.
Osborn had to know that the question of ditching was going to come up in a hard-ball campaign at some point. Especially considering that Osborn made the Hainan Incident the #1 issue at the beginning of his campaign.
As it turned out he, and his campaign, had no defense plan.
And then when he tried to make one up on the fly, he crushed his campaign.
And if there was any doubt, the final “Dishonorable” ad — not put out by the Sasse campaign (wink-wink) — was the dagger to end it.
So could Sid Dinsdale shoot the “Deb Fischer” gap?
Well, remember all of those negative ads against Deb Fischer at the end of her race?
Well that’s because there weren’t any.
Sid Dinsdale got defined by his opponent before he could go that route.
He was another imperfect candidate, in more ways that one. Yes, he had contributed to Democrats. Yes, he made his statement — during the campaign — about the debt ceiling. Yes there was the Dodd-Frank questions.
All of these were potentially minor, or could be explained away — unless there were a million bucks in ads pounding away at you.
And there was a nagging question for Dinsdale: Why did he want to go to Washington? Bored with business? Was there something specific to fix? His “government overreach” theme wasn’t that different from Sasse’s anti-ObamaCare theme — but Sasse’s message was very specific. Sid’s was generic, and not something you could deliver in an elevator speech.
And again, who was hammering Sasse all that time? Osborn?
Well, with some ObamaCare stuff that never really stuck. (And delivered personally by Osborn, which probably also backfired on him.)
Sure Sasse’s previous ObamaCare work had some cracks with the “good first step” and his work with some pro-ObamaCare groups. But his entire campaign build-up was that he was the “anti-ObamaCare” guy. And though he gave some nuances in his speeches, no voter ever said, “he’s pro-ObamaCare.”
A way Sasse could have been hit would have been that he wanted to implement “ObamaCare light”. Or that “SasseCare would put us down the same road…” or blah blah blah. Heck, we saw at least two harsh critiques of Sasse’s replacement plan. Do you think that $2M in negative ads on that wouldn’t have put a dent in Sasse — maybe even grinding down his main campaign point?
But who was going to do that?
Osborn didn’t have the cash.
And Dinsdale refused to go negative.
So, while Sasse was a near perfect candidate who ran a near perfect campaign (save the creepy ad with his daughters), the money from the outside groups was suffocating the other candidates’ message.
You will hear and read a great deal about how groups united around him and Tea Party and Ted Cruz. And those had some effect. But without the buckets of cash bashing his opponents, he sure as heck wouldn’t have gotten to 49%.
Sasse had a very curious line during his victory speech:
“As you all became the fuel and the fire (of the campaign), national folks came and became honorary Nebraskans.”
Is that how that works?
Well, you can certainly set your opponents on fire with a million dollars.
All the while claiming you didn’t start it.
As we noted above, Sasse will blow out Democrat Dave Domina.
And we will look forward to seeing him represent Nebraska and hopefully making Nebraskans proud that they elected him.
Longtime readers here on Leavenworth St. will point out that we were arguing that the polls were much closer than the Sasse camp was claiming, particularly in the final days of the campaign.
True, but in our defense we did not account for:
1) the dismal showing by Bart McLeay;
2) Sasse sweeping up nearly all of the Undecided voters at the end.
Polls had been showing Sid Dinsdale as high as 27% near the end, though politicos were estimating that he would need at least half of the Undecideds to get close to Sasse. In the end, his base was not as high has estimated, and the Undecideds went en masse with Sasse.