OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A national conservative group endorsed Republican candidate Ben Sasse in Nebraska's open U.S. Senate race on Tuesday, setting up the Midland University president as the race's tea party candidate.
In announcing the endorsement, Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins said there "are other good candidates in this race," but said Sasse is a strong conservative who will fight to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law.
"He's an expert on health care policy and will help repeal Obamacare and enact free-market health care policies that lower costs and increase quality," Hoskins said.
The endorsement comes less than a week after the House and Senate voted to end a more than two-week partial federal government shutdown, in part over the health care law. Sasse has said that while he would have voted to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default on the nation's debt, he would have rejected the compromise to end the government shutdown. He said he instead would have held out for a bill that addressed solutions to government spending and the national deficit.
Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint — a tea party favorite who had been known for bucking party leadership — has also been sharply critical of the budget deal. The group has backed other tea party favorites, from Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas to, most recently, Matt Bevin, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky's Republican primary.
Asked whether he embraces the tea party label, Sasse said he's "not going for any particular label here."
"I hope to have support from conservatives across our state: small business owners, constitutional conservatives, tea partiers, people of faith and Second Amendment supporters," Sasse said. "We're building a broad coalition here of people who are tired of business as usual in Washington and are looking for someone with a positive conservative vision for America."
Other Republicans seeking to replace U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, who is not running for a second term, are former Nebraska State Treasurer Shane Osborn, Omaha attorney Bart McLeay and Omaha banker Sid Dinsdale. So far, no Democrat has entered the race.
A campaign official for Osborn responded to the endorsement by noting that the Senate Conservative Fund unsuccessfully backed Nebraska State Treasurer Don Stenberg in the Republican U.S. Senate primary last year in the race to replace former U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson. Rancher Deb Fischer went on the win the primary and the election.
"The Senate Conservative Fund is 0-for-1 in Nebraska Senate races," Osborne campaign manager Bill Novotny said. "We are more interested in the support of people who can actually vote in the Nebraska primary. I'll take our list of county chairs over his list of DC endorsements any day of the week."
Dinsdale's campaign declined to comment on the endorsement. McLeay's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Sasse, making his first run for public office, raised $815,000 in the last fundraising quarter — more than twice as much as the $366,500 raised by Osborn, who came in second for money raised in the quarter.