WASHINGTON - The tea party scored a win in Nebraska on Tuesday as university president Ben Sasse captured the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in a bitter race that highlighted the fissures within the GOP. Two women set the stage for history-making in West Virginia.
Sasse, who had the backing of outside conservative groups, Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz, grabbed 45 percent of the vote to 25 percent for Sid Dinsdale, the president of Pinnacle Bank, and 23 percent for former State Treasurer Shane Osborn.
For months, Sasse was locked in an increasingly negative race with Osborn, who had the support of the Washington establishment and allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
With little to celebrate to date, conservative groups immediately trumpeted Sasse's win.
"Ben Sasse won this race because he never stopped fighting for conservative principles," said Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins. Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said Sasse built his campaign "on the simple idea that Obamacare is a disaster that needs to be repealed."
Voters in Nebraska and West Virginia were deciding their lineups for the November elections in the latest round of spring primaries. The fall midterms will determine control of Congress for the last two years of President Barack Obama's second term, with Republicans expected to hold the House and cautiously optimistic about winning control of the Senate.
The GOP needs to net six seats to grab the majority
In West Virginia, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Natalie Tennant cruised to primary wins and will square off in a Senate showdown in November that will give the state its first female senator.
Capito is a seven-term congresswoman and daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore; Tennant the state's secretary of state. They are looking to replace Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who is retiring after 30 years.
West Virginia has become increasingly Republican, and Capito entered the general election contest as the heavy favorite. If elected, she would be the first Republican senator from West Virginia since 1959.
In Nebraska, Sasse, who heads Midland University, had the backing of the Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks in his bid to replace Republican Sen. Mike Johanns, who is retiring after a single six-year term.
Sasse has focused on his conservative credentials, opposition to abortion, support for gun rights and goal of repealing and replacing the health care law.
While Sasse won over tea partyers, he offered voters some significant establishment credentials. He served as an assistant secretary in the Health and Human Services Department in President George W. Bush's administration, studied at Harvard and Yale, and was a visiting scholar in economics at the Brookings Institution.