On Tuesday, Nebraska Republican voters will choose between former State Treasurer Shane Osborn and Midland University president Ben Sasse in the Senate primary. Instead of a battle between the establishment and the Tea Party, this primary has become an intra-Tea-Party war.
Both candidates have been endorsed at different times by Freedomworks. The influential libertarian fundraising group first picked Osborn as its guy, but later switched and endorsed Sasse. Local Tea Party activists are mad. In a Monty Python joke come to life, Nebraska Tea Partiers are accusing Freedomworks of being too Washington. Fifty-two local activists posted an open letter to Freedomworks, complaining,
We are not million-dollar Washington, D.C., special interest groups with strong ties to Capitol Hill. We are simply Nebraskans who are fed up. We were not consulted, polled, or contacted by these Washington, D.C., groups.
First they railed against Obama, then the Republican establishment, and now the Republican fringe group. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the Judean People's Front!
Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer at The New York Times see these tensions as "an inevitable product of a political movement that began without central leadership and spread with antigovernment fervor." Local activists now resent the fact that Freedomworks and other groups like Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund have started to dictate who the Tea Party candidates will be. These groups have also been called hypocritical for splurging on fancy hotels and high-priced entertainment. (Club for Growth has raised $5.2 million this year and spent only $536,000 on operations. SCF has a Capitol Hill townhouse with a hot tub and wine cellar.)
Now, Nebraskan Tea Partiers have aligned themselves with House Speaker John Boehner and the establishment, whether they'd like to admit that or not. Boehner has railed against these groups for picking bad candidates and mishandling money. He wants to demolish them in the midterms.
Patrick Bonnett, the chairman of the Conservative Coalition of Nebraska, says Freedomworks just needs to start communicating with local activists again. "It worked well when they communicated with us on the ground," he tells the Times. "It breaks down when they unilaterally get involved in our local races, even if it’s in federal campaigns, and endorse and start spending money."