After a month of ad buys and sympathetic conservative media attention, Ben Sasse has shot up from an asterisk to a close second in Nebraska’s open seat Senate race, according to a new Conservative Intel Poll of the Cornhusker State.
The poll, conducted for Conservative Intel by Harper Polling, also shows that Attorney General Jon Bruning, now widely expected to enter the open race for governor, will lead that crowded field the moment he gets in. Nebraska’s primary election day is May 13.
The survey of 565 likely Republican Primary voters found former State Treasurer Shane Osborn with a narrow lead in the race to succeed the retiring Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. Osborn drew 30 percent support, compared to 29 percent for Midland University president and former Bush-era HHS Assistant Secretary Ben Sasse. The two candidates are within the poll’s 4 percent margin of error. Sid Dinsdale, a banker from Omaha, took third with 13 percent, and attorney Bart McLeay drew 4 percent.
All four candidates claim the conservative banner, and whoever wins the primary is heavily favored to become the next senator.
Sasse, who barely registered in our June 2013 poll of this race (3 percent), has since made the largest move, after a couple months in which he has been winning the fight for earned media. His biggest coup was to be featured on the cover of National Review last month as “Obamacare’s Nebraska nemesis.” He also received endorsements from Paul Ryan, RedState’s Erick Erickson, the Senate Conservatives Fund, and the Club for Growth. His campaign has led the money race throughout, and he had more than $1 million in the bank at the end of 2013. Sasse still remains unknown to 54 percent of GOP primary voters, with 31 percent viewing him favorably and 15 percent unfavorably.
Osborn, a former Navy pilot with a compelling personal story and an activist for returning veterans, has received endorsements from the conservative group FreedomWorks, former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes, and the quiet backing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Fifty-four percent of Nebraska GOP voters view him favorably, versus only 18 percent who have an unfavorable view.
Fifty-three percent of Nebraska GOP primary voters said they support the goals and ideals of the Tea Party. Among these, Sasse has a slight lead, 35 to 31 percent. Osborn leads Sasse 35 to 23 percent among those who say they do not support the Tea Party (24 percent of the sample) and among those who are unsure (28 to 25 percent).
When we polled this Senate race last June, Attorney General Jon Bruning held a substantial lead, but he later opted out of the contest. He is now poised to enter the open governor’s race any day to replace retiring Gov. Dave Heineman, R. Our new poll finds that Bruning will instantly lead that crowded field. Bruning draws 35 percent of the vote, ahead of 2006 Senate nominee Pete Ricketts (16 percent), state auditor Mike Foley (14 percent), and four other candidates. Charlie Janssen, who just announced he is quitting the race, was also tested in our survey, and came in fourth with just 6 percent.
Despite losing a bitter 2012 Senate primary in which millions in negative ads were run against him, Bruning is the most popular candidate we measured for either Senate or governor. Fifty-nine percent of GOP primary voters view him favorably and only 19 percent unfavorably. Bruning leads for governor with 34 percent among voters who describe themselves as “very conservative” and with 36 percent among those who describe themselves as “somewhat conservative.”
Click here for the poll’s full toplines. Presidential results and crosstabs will be made available tomorrow.