FreedomWorks on Friday withdrew its endorsement of Shane Osborn in Nebraska's Republican Senate primary, saying he has turned his back on grassroots Republicans and is now tied to the GOP establishment, and announced they were instead backing Ben Sasse.
The move is a major blow to Mr. Osborn, whose campaign earlier this month told The Washington Times that FreedomWorks' endorsement was the "important one in the race."
Matt Kibbe, FreedomWorks PAC's president, said both Mr. Sasse and Mr. Osborn are "great people" but said he had to decide which of them would be more likely to stand up to the GOP establishment.
"At this point, it is clear that Shane Osborn formed allegiances with Mitch McConnell and the K Street lobbying class," Mr. Kibbe said Friday. "For us, that progression away from the grassroots has tipped the balance."
Mr. Osborn, in a statement after the endorsement withdrawal, dismissed the change, saying that "Washington, D.C. special interest groups" were lining up behind Mr. Sasse because of his time working for the Bush administration.
"FreedomWorks has decided to endorse a candidate who they have attacked for months over his lack of conservatism and record of championing big government policies," Mr. Osborn said, dubbing Mr. Sasse as "Beltway Ben." "Sasse is selling himself as the ObamaCare nemesis, but nothing could be further from the truth."
It's the second big hit for Mr. Osborn this week. He had to apologize after his campaign circulated a fraudulent memo on Navy letterhead in trying to defend his conduct during a 2001 incident as a Navy pilot, when he landed a reconnaissance plane in China after the plane was hit by a Chinese fighter.
The incident turned into a major international crisis and Mr. Osborn's handling of it and of the sensitive information and equipment on his plane have become an issue in the campaign.
FreedomWorks didn't mention the plane incident in withdrawing its endorsement.
FreedomWorks first endorsed Mr. Osborn in November, saying he was one of the "heroes" the Senate needs and saying his "dedication to constitutional principles and a return to fiscal sanity is beyond reproach."
That endorsement is no longer accessible on FreedomWorks' website.
Mr. Osborn is a former state treasurer who has led in polling, while Mr. Sasse, a university president and former Bush administration official, is a political newcomer who runs second despite lower name recognition among primary voters. Several other candidates for the GOP nomination trail well behind in the polls.
The race is to fill the seat of Sen. Mike Johanns, who is not seeking re-election. given Nebraska's conservative bent, the winner of the GOP primary is expected to win the general election in November.
With a number of conservative candidates vying to replace Mr. Johanns, the race had split the tea party and conservative communities. The Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund both endorsed Mr. Sasse, while FreedomWorks had backed Mr. Osborn.
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