Ben Sasse won the Republican nomination for Nebraska's open Senate seat Tuesday, besting a crowded, competitive field, leaving him well-positioned to win in November and delivering a win to insurgent conservative groups who said it served as a rebuke to GOP power brokers in Washington.
Mr. Sasse, a university president and former Bush administration health official, is a newcomer to elective politics, but he gained traction with a campaign message firmly opposing Obamacare and vowing to fight against the Washington establishment.
One of Mr. Sasse's earliest ads proposed moving the capital away from Washington as a way to break the influence of entrenched special interests.
Shane Osborn, who had been seen as the establishment candidate, conceded defeat at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time.
With nearly a quarter of precincts reporting, Mr. Sasse had 46 percent of the vote to just 23 percent for Mr. Osborn. Bank president Sid Dinsdale, who had a late surge as the Osborn-Sasse race got nasty, bumped Mr. Osborn down to third place in the early returns, taking 24 percent of the vote.
Given Nebraska's Republican bent, Mr. Sasse's win makes him the clear favorite to win the general election in November. The seat is being left vacant by Sen. Mike Johanns, who announced he was retiring after a single term in the Senate.
Mr. Sasse topped Mr. Osborn, a former state treasurer who had the backing of Washington establishment groups, but who saw his support among tea party and anti-Washington groups falter.
One such group, FreedomWorks, even switched its endorsement from Mr. Osborn to Mr. Sasse midway through the race.
"I would like to congratulate Ben Sasse on his well-deserved victory," Mr. Osborn said in a statement Tuesday night. "In the weeks and months to come, I look forward to spending more time with my family, but also working to help our candidates in Nebraska and across the country win this fall. I believe the problems facing our nation today are far too important to ignore, and we must focus our attention on electing strong conservatives in order to get our nation back on track and create a better future for all Americans."
Late in the race, Mr. Sasse also survived a surge by Mr. Dinsdale, a wealthy candidate who faced attacks that he was too moderate for Nebraska's GOP.
"The GOP establishment came after Ben with everything — including the ugliest and most reprehensible personal attacks — and it only made him stronger. He'll make Nebraskans proud. Sasse will be a great Senator," said L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of ForAmerica, a pressure group that poured $150,000 into the race opposing both Mr. Osborn and Mr. Dinsdale.
In the late stages of the race a political action committee run by a former campaign aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell began running ads harshly critical of Mr. Sasse, spawning speculation that the GOP leader was trying to sink Mr. Sasse's bid.
Mr. Sasse on Tuesday said he will back the Kentucky senator to be the Republicans' leader in the chamber.
But some of the new nominee's backers said they don't expect him to be tied to Mr. McConnell.
"Nebraskans can be proud of having elected the man that will be their next U.S. Senator, one who will have no allegiance to the failed leadership in both parties," Drew Ryun, political director of the Madison Project, said in a statement. "With Senator Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) PAC spending hundreds of thousands in a failed attempt to stop Sasse's momentum, it should be clear to everyone that Ben Sasse will serve as an independent conservative voice in the halls of Congress."
Also Tuesday, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Natalie Tennant captured primary wins in West Virginia's U.S. Senate primaries, setting the stage for a showdown in November that will give the state its first female senator.
One of the two women will replace Democratic Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, who is retiring after 30 years. The Appalachian state has become increasingly Republican, and Mrs. Capito enters the general election contest as the heavy favorite. If elected, she would be the first Republican senator from West Virginia since 1959.
Mrs. Capito's departure from the House created a messy GOP primary in her 2nd Congressional District. Alex Mooney, the former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party who moved to West Virginia, captured the nomination in a seven-candidate race and will face Democrat Nick Casey, the former state party chairman of West Virginia, in the fall.
Mr. Mooney's campaign said he moved to West Virginia to "live in freedom, and he'll fight Obama to preserve it."
One of the most endangered House Democrats is 19-term Rep. Nick Rahall, who easily won his primary and will face Democrat-turned-Republican Evan Jenkins in the fall.
This article was based in part on wire-service reports.
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