Former naval pilot Shane Osborn continues to lead anti-Obamacare candidate Ben Sasse in the Nebraska GOP senate primary, but the race is “wide open” and Sasse is gaining ground, according to a new poll of likely voters conducted by Breitbart News/The Polling Company.
Osborn, also the former State Treasurer, is ahead 35-24 percent, the poll found. 30 percent are undecided and none of a handful of other candidates break single digits.
In a memo explaining the results, pollster Kellyanne Conway wrote Sasse is “poised to challenge the presumed frontrunner” because he polls better – 52-31 percent – with people who have an opinion about both candidates. Sasse also leads 40-32 percent among those who have merely heard of both candidates. Osborn has wider name recognition, allowing Sasse more room to grow his support.
Both candidates appear to have an easy route to the Senate seat if they win the May 13 primary, the poll found. “Republican primary voters in Nebraska are free to choose the nominee they want to win, not the one the Establishment wizards says ‘can win,'” noted Conway.
The poll surveyed 600 Nebraskans likely to vote in the Senate election–400 of which identified as Republican – between Feb. 25-28. The poll had a margin error of +/- 4.9 percent for the Republican subgroup.
The poll finds that candidates will have to campaign hard on economic issues to court the Republican vote. 43% of voters cited economic issues “like taxes and government spending” as the most important; GOP primary voters cited opposing Obamacare as their greatest concern. Currently, Osborn is winning the vote of those who strongly oppose Obamacare 35%-28%, though Sasse’s background in public health policy may turn the tide as voters read up on the election.
On personal backgrounds, Republican voters are happy with both candidates. When presented with details of both candidates’ biographies, voters were more likely to support both candidates. 49% of voters said they would be more likely to support Shane Osborn when told he was a Navy pilot detained in China for 12 days in 2001; 54% of voters said they were more likely to support Sasse after being told he served as assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush.
The race between Sasse and Osborn has grown heated as national interests have begun taking sides in the Nebraska race. While Osborn enjoys the support of the Republican establishment including from a big fundraiser held at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Sasse received the endorsement of the Senate Conservative Fund, triggering a quiet campaign by some D.C. insiders against the candidate. With the race to be decided in two months, both candidates have a challenging campaign ahead in a race where Republicans, with a weak Democratic opposition, can afford to be picky.