Campaign intelligence: Republican primaries in the spotlight

Picture of Ben Sasse, Republican candidate for US Senate in Nebraska, in casual attire
Outside conservative groups have spent more than $2.6 million to elect Ben Sasse


Another day, another primary test for the Tea Party. Tuesday’s chapter takes place in Nebraska, where a Republican contest has drawn more than $3 million in outside spending — $2.6 million of which has been spent either supporting Midland University President Ben Sasse or targeting his opponents — and national attention as an early litmus test for conservative candidates taking on establishment favorites.

Sasse, who served in the administration of former President George W. Bush before making the jump to academia, has drawn slews of endorsements from national conservative groups and hard line conservative members of Congress such as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. Sasse’s chief competitors are former state treasurer Shane Osborn and businessman Sid Dinsdale, who has loaned his campaign $1 million to help stay in contention. A May 8 poll from Magellan Strategies shows Sasse with a 14-point lead.

The university president’s campaign began to gain serious momentum with the release of a YouTube video (below) slamming congressional Republicans for not doing enough to combat the Affordable Care Act. Among the targets: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Perceived ties to the GOP establishment were the apparent reason behind a last-minute allegiance shift by FreedomWorks. The group initially backed Osborn, but have since spent more than $85,000 on e-mails, online ads and phone calls supporting Sasse. FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe commented in March, “[a]t this point, it is clear that Shane Osborn formed allegiances with Mitch McConnell and the K Street lobbying class. For us, that progression away from the grassroots has tipped the balance.”

Breitbart News reported in March that the Freedom Pioneers Action Network — which has spent $200,000 opposing Sasse — was founded by the same two men behind a pro-McConnell Super PAC.

The Republican nominee will be heavily favored to win the general election in November for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Mike Johanns.


One primary, seven candidates. That’s the scenario facing Republican voters Tuesday in West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. The winner of the primary will be the presumptive favorite in the general election for the sprawling district’s House seat. Republican incumbent Shelley Moore Capito — now running for Senate — won her last reelection bid by 39 points and Mitt Romney carried district with more than 60 percent of the vote. This cycle’s crowded field, however, means the winner could pull away with just 9-10,000 votes.

In contention is Alex Mooney, who served as a state senator and state GOP chairman in Maryland before jumping the Potomac River. Mooney has the backing of Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund as well as the Family Research Council and has outpaced his primary opponents on the fundraising trail. His campaign receipts, however, reveal that he hasn’t completely left behind his Maryland roots, and his recent move to the West Virginia panhandle has drawn claims of carpetbaggery.

Fundraising invitations show that the would-be congressman was fêted by several prominent pols from his old home state, including former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich and Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md. Fundraising reception

As Brian Griffiths of Red Maryland noted, most of the cash in Mooney’s campaign coffers actually comes from across the river. The graphic below, populated by data from Sunlight’s Real-Time FEC tool, underscores that point. Out of $573,275 in itemized contributions to Mooney for Congress, less than 20 percent — some $11,000 — came from the state Mooney wants to represent in Congress.

Berkeley Springs pharmacist Ken Reed has bet heavily on his rookie congressional campaign, spending over $530,000 of his own money, and even donating the services of his personal Cessna plane for campaign use. Over 95 percent of Reed’s committee’s hard money has come from — Reed (though a handful of fellow pharmacists have also chipped in).

Charlotte Lane, a former state delegate and International Trade Commissioner, has had more luck in recruiting donors from within Mountain State and also received some outside from Women Lead PAC, which spent around $25,000 on mailings supporting Lane.

The race has not drawn a huge amount of outside spending by current standards (just over $105,000 thus far), but, as the Washington Examiner noted, Americans for Prosperity’s anti-Obamacare ads aimed at Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., may have pulled double duty.

While candidates in the Republican primary have already spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads, media consultants and voter surveys, Democrat Nick Casey has stockpiled a little over $625,000 in his campaign war chest as he looks to cruise to his party’s nomination.

Casey’s primary challenger, Meshea Poore, has raised under $65,000 to date and was recently notified by the Federal Election Commission of her campaign’s failure to file a routine campaign disclosure.