Ben Sasse

( LINCOLN, Neb. – A newcomer to politics has walked away with Nebraska’s Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

With all precincts reporting, Ben Sasse handily won the Senate race with 49 percent of the vote, followed by Omaha banker Sid Dinsdale with 22 percent, former State Treasurer Shane Osborn with 21 percent and Omaha attorney Bart McLeay with 6 percent, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office.

State Treasurer Shane Osborn began the race with a 32-point lead in October, riding on name recognition and brief international fame in 2001 as a military hero after he landed his crippled spy plane in China and was held captive along with his crew. But his comfortable lead evaporated as more and more Tea Party groups, conservative groups and right-wing celebrities like Sarah Palin endorsed Sasse, a 42-year-old former Bush administration official and president of a small Lutheran college in Fremont.

Sasse made repealing Obamacare the centerpiece of his campaign, traveling around the state with a 9-foot-high stack of paper that was a printout of all the rules and regulations associated with the Affordable Care Act. Experienced in fund raising for his college, Sasse also out-raised everybody else in the race, amassing a $2.5 million war chest by Election Day.

By February, the race was in a dead heat, and by late April Sasse had surpassed Osborn, according to his internal polling. By the weekend before the election, Sasse had a double-digit lead.

Pinnacle Bancorp President Sid Dinsdale surged in the final weeks of the campaign — as Osborn and Sasse’s supporters beat each other up and Dinsdale poured $1 million into his campaign, buying plenty of air time where he decried the millions being spent by outside groups on the race.

“I didn’t fully appreciate what I was getting into,” Dinsdale said during his concession speech.

After being declared the winner, Sasse told supporters in Lincoln that political operatives called his candidacy a long shot, but when he told crowds on the campaign trail he was a 42-year-old non-politician, they cheered.

“They didn’t bet on us, because they didn’t know you,” he said. “Nebraskans know that Washington isn’t just broke, it’s broken.”

Sasse says he was criticized for talking to Democrats (giving speeches on health care), but he’ll continue to do so “because we want to win them to the right side of the fight.” Sasse also said the national media tried to portray the race as a Republican civil war between the establishment Republicans and Tea Party, but that’s not how Nebraskans saw it. Numerous media outlets have portrayed the race as a bellwether for the Tea Party’s strength, since Sasse’s win marked the Tea Party’s first win this in the mid-term elections.

Osborn credited Sasse with “a well-deserved victory.”

“I am proud that we ran a spirited campaign focused on my proven conservative record as state treasurer and my service to our country in the United States Navy,” he said in an email to supporters.

In the November election, Sasse faces Democrat David Domina, who handily defeated Larry Marvin to win the Democratic nomination. Domina immediately sent out a release highlighting the differences between him and Sasse on issues such as Social Security and increasing the minimum wage.

In Nebraska’s congressional races, all three incumbent Republicans survived the primary. U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry easily fended off little-known challengers in the First District, garnering 86 percent of the vote, and  takes on Democrat Dennis Crawford in the general election.

U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith overwhelmed Col. Tom Brewer in the Third District, winning 68 percent of the vote to Brewer’s 32 percent. And Rep. Lee Terry beat challenger Dan Frei by six points. Read more about that race here.

Results from other competitive GOP primary races:

Attorney General
Doug Peterson: 36%
Brian Buescher: 26%
Mike Hilgers: 23%
Pete Pirsch: 16%

State Auditor
Charlie Janssen: 57%
Larry Anderson: 43%

District 2 Congress
Lee Terry: 53%
Dan Frei: 47%

District 3 Congress

Adrian Smith: 68%

Tom Brewer: 32%

District 1 Congress

Jeff Fortenberry: 86%

Jessica Turek: 8%

Dennis Parker: 6%

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