The GOP Senate field in Nebraska is as divided on the recent federal shutdown as are Republicans on the national front.
Two Republican candidates — Ben Sasse of Fremont and Shane Osborn of Omaha — said they supported the original strategy of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to defund President Barack Obama's health care law. That strategy led to the shutdown.
Sasse and Osborn also said they would have voted against the compromise that reopened the government last week.
“We have to do everything we can to stop Obamacare,” said Osborn, a Navy veteran and former state treasurer.
“This law is not ready for prime time. That is obvious,” said Sasse, who is president of Midland University.
The two other candidates in the field said they also strongly oppose the controversial health care law. But Sid Dinsdale of Omaha and Bart McLeay of Omaha said they would have voted differently.
Dinsdale said he would have had a hard time supporting Cruz's approach of opposing legislation to keep the government operating unless it also shut down funding for the health care law. Dinsdale questioned whether it was a winning strategy from the start.
“I respect that Cruz and others are trying to bring attention to our terrible financial conditions in our country. But I think, as a U.S. senator, you're sent there to have the government run and not shut down,” said Dinsdale, an Omaha banker whose family founded Pinnacle Bank.
McLeay, an Omaha attorney, said he probably would have supported Cruz's original strategy. But he said he believes Republicans made a tactical error by not pushing harder to delay — rather than defund — the health care law.
In the end, McLeay said, he would have joined with others in the Nebraska delegation and voted for the compromise.
“I was in support of Sen. Cruz's strategy to eliminate Obamacare. And I appreciate Sen. Cruz's efforts, but I might have taken a different tactical approach at the end of the process. That was to emphasize delaying Obamacare, as opposed to defunding Obamacare,” McLeay said.
The four Republicans are vying to succeed Sen. Mike Johanns, who announced earlier this year that he would retire.
Whether they would support Cruz's approach to defunding the health care law is likely to be a key issue in the race, especially since the debate could arise again. In addition, third-party conservative groups may weigh the candidates' stance on the issue in deciding where to throw their support.
The compromise that reopened the government is temporary. Lawmakers only agreed to temporarily fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, raising the prospect of another bitter partisan showdown in January or early February.
Cruz — a Tea Party favorite — has said he would not rule out using a similar tactic next year.
The shutdown and Cruz's hard-line stance have caused a rift within the Republican Party. Some GOP lawmakers, including Johanns, opposed the strategy, arguing that it would not work and that the shutdown would merely anger the public.
Others supported the effort, including Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer.
Fischer was one of the original backers of Cruz's strategy — although, in the end, she parted company with Cruz and voted for the compromise.
In Nebraska, if the party's Senate candidates are any indication, Cruz remains a popular figure.
Several of the candidates praised Cruz for his efforts. Dinsdale said that although he probably wouldn't have backed Cruz's strategy, he appreciated the Texan's ability to spark a debate on the health care law and the nation's rising debt.
“I may not agree with his strategy, but he did win something. We will have another debate,” Dinsdale said.
McLeay also praised Cruz: “I appreciate what Sen. Cruz has done in opening the eyes of America to the erosion of liberty and the financial crisis that we're facing.”
Sasse took issue with the notion that Cruz's strategy led to the shutdown. He said Obama forced the shutdown by refusing to cooperate with Republicans.
“The president shut down the government,” Sasse said.
Osborn said he believes that if Republicans had pressed harder, Obama and others eventually would have backed down.
“The government unfortunately has been shut down several times in the past,” he said. “And sometimes desperate means call for desperate measures.”