Ben Sasse soared Tuesday night to an overwhelming statewide victory, completing a rocket ride from political anonymity to the U.S. Senate in a year's time.
Sasse, the 42-year-old president of Midland University in Fremont, swept aside generational challenges and geographical barriers in winning the seat now held by fellow Republican Sen. Mike Johanns.
Johanns, 64, will step aside in January after a long and remarkable career in Nebraska politics, making way for a symbolic changing of the guard.
Sasse will enter the Senate as one of its youngest members, and when he takes the oath of office to join Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine, that will mark the first time in 80 years that neither of Nebraska's two senators hails from Lincoln or Omaha.
Sasse's border-to-border win was wrapped up so early he was able to deliver a victory speech to supporters at the Grand Manse in Lincoln not much more than an hour after the polls closed. It included a couple of sentences spoken in Spanish as he reached out to Hispanics in the state.
Stepping up to the stage, the man who has described himself as a fixer of broken institutions promised to do the same in Washington.
“It’s time for our leaders in Washington, D.C., to become optimistic again about us as a people,” Sasse said. “We are going to live by the ‘Go Big or Go Home’ motto for the next six years.”
Although political labels are fluid and inexact, and Sasse has not yet cast a single vote, it appears likely that he will line up somewhat to the right of Johanns.
Sasse was endorsed in a sharply contested four-man Republican primary battle last May by leading voices from the right, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and a bundle of leading conservative political action committees.
When the GOP votes were counted in the spring, Sasse overwhelmed former State Treasurer Shane Osborn, the early front-runner, and Omaha banker Sid Dinsdale, a fast-charging latecomer.
On Tuesday, Sasse romped past Democratic nominee Dave Domina of Omaha, perhaps the state's best-known trial lawyer, along with independent petition candidates Jim Jenkins of Callaway and Todd Watson of Lincoln.
The dimensions of the Sasse victory were visible early as he piled up leads in Omaha and all across the Republican west. Lincoln broke early for Domina, but the vote count from outside the city began to tip Lancaster County toward Sasse.
A road warrior who roamed the state in a red and white campaign bus -- actually a 1995 RV purchased for $15,000 in which he slept for the last time one night last week -- Sasse steadily built name recognition that turned into support and blossomed into momentum.
At Tuesday's reception, more than a hundred people -- campaign workers, fathers, mothers, students -- signed a large canvas sheet emblazoned with an image of Sasse’s campaign bus.
Sasse will go to Washington labeled nationally as a tea party candidate who might be aligned with Cruz, but the reality is that he is more difficult to define than that. He prefers the label "constructive conservative."
High on his list of legislative priorities are repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, and a bipartisan debt reduction package composed of tax reform, spending cuts and entitlement reform.
Sasse has proposed gradually increasing the age of eligibility for entitlements and considering means-testing the benefits to target assistance to those most in need while protecting eligibility and benefits for those already at or near retirement age.