FreedomWorks head: Neb. GOP primary a 'win'

FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe doesn’t seem to mind whether the group’s endorsed candidate makes it through the Nebraska Senate Republican primary.

The group has endorsed former state Treasurer Shane Osborn in the competitive GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), splitting away from a number of other national conservative groups and lawmakers, who have backed Midland University President Ben Sasse in the race.

ADVERTISEMENT
Kibbe said, during a Wednesday appearance on Glenn Beck’s radio show, that conservatives are facing a “win-win” situation between the two candidates, noting that Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) endorsed Sasse on Tuesday.

“It’s interesting. I have to admit that Mike Lee endorsed Ben Sasse yesterday,” Kibbe said on the show.

“What’s interesting about it is, I think we’re having a serious family disagreement about who of these two candidates is better, but one of them is going to win. So you’re either going to be stuck with Mike Lee’s favorite candidate or FreedomWorks’s favorite candidate, and I’d call that a win-win,” he added.

Kibbe does add, chuckling: “Mike’s wrong, and I’m right, let’s be clear about that.”

Bill Novotny, Osborn's campaign manager, admitted that the comments weren't what the campaign was looking for, but said they were confident they had the group's full support.

"Certainly we would've loved Matt to come out a little stronger, but FreedomWorks is squarely behind us in this race," he said.

But his comments underscore the difficulty the two candidates may have in establishing themselves as the conservative pick. They’re largely similar on the big policy issues in the race and diverge mainly on their style and their resumes.

The two candidates have divided the nation’s conservative groups, with Sasse drawing the support of the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund, while Osborn has the backing of FreedomWorks. Sasse has also nabbed endorsements from a handful of big-name conservative lawmakers, including Lee, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). 

Osborn on Tuesday got the endorsement of Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the conservative Eagle Forum and a prominent social conservative activist, and was previously backed by Concerned Women for America.

At issue in the race is ObamaCare. FreedomWorks has charged Sasse wouldn’t do enough to oppose ObamaCare if elected, citing his work on healthcare policy during his time as an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services under former President George W. Bush. The groups supporting Sasse, however, have said his resume gives him the experience needed to offer solutions to the nation’s healthcare troubles.

FreedomWorks spokeswoman Jacqueline Bodnar said Kibbe was referencing the fact that conservatives have a number of good options in the race.

“The point Matt was trying to make is, any time primary voters are choosing between candidates backed by strong conservative legislators and small-government grassroots groups, you are in a pretty good place. We are big fans of good ideas, compelling candidates and open competition over here at FreedomWorks,” she said in an email to The Hill.

A conservative poll out earlier this year showed Sasse gaining support and about tied with Osborn in the race.

Sasse's campaign manager, Tyler Grassmeyer, said the campaign would welcome FreedomWorks' support.

"Ben is building a broad coalition of conservatives. If FreedomWorks wants to be a friend of our campaign we are more than happy to have them join our cause," he said.

—This piece was updated at 7 p.m. to reflect comment from Osborn's and Sasse's campaigns.