OMAHA, Nebraska–Hours before polls open in the Cornhusker state, Midland University President Ben Sasse held a lead against former State Treasurer Shane Osborn and bank president Sid Dinsdale.
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) have all endorsed Sasse providing him the imprimatur of some of the leading national conservatives.
Outside groups including the Club for Growth have invested heavily in the race, adding to the national significance of the contest one week after candidates favored by the GOP Establishment swept Tea Party rivals in races in North Carolina and Ohio.
Osborn has relentlessly attacked Sasse as a “fake conservative,” although some of the attacks were heavily condemned as misleading. In the past several days, Osborn backed an anti-amnesty pledge and criticized Sasse for his failure to sign it.
Dinsdale, the wealthy businessman, has poured his own money into the race, rising in the polls and drawing comparisons to the unlikely come-from-behind victory of Sen. Deb Fischer in 2012.
However, the most recent polls show Sasse firmly in the lead and top Republicans watching the race say the contest is all but over.
A May 8 Magellan Strategies survey of likely GOP primary voters found Sasse leading with 38%, while Dinsdale was in second with 24%. Osborn was in third with 20%.
Outside groups have been flooding the airwaves with ads highlighting that Dinsdale donated to several Democratic politicians.
Although aided by the negative ads by outside groups, Sasse’s campaign itself has run only positive ads, and his campaign has almost entirely stayed on a positive message.
A Sasse victory would be seen my many insiders as a victory not only for the candidate himself, but for the national conservative groups that have found 2014 a more difficult political environment than 2012 and 2010, when conservative primary challengers toppled incumbents in a series of surprising verdicts.