Midland University President Ben Sasse captured Nebraska's Republican nomination for US Senate, a major victory for the Tea Party, The Associated Press reports.

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Sasse, a university president, was able to hold off former state treasurer Shane Osborn, and dark horse candidate Sid Dinsdale who had begun to surge in recent weeks,.

Sasse grabbed 45 percent of the vote to 25 percent for Dinsdale and 23 percent for Osborn, according to preliminary returns.

The win makes Sasse a huge favorite in November's general election, where he'll face Democrat Dave Domina, an Omaha attorney. The winner will replace Republican Mike Johanns, who didn't seek a second term.

Sasse, the president of Midland University, had steadily gained the backing of some of the most influential conservative groups and figures. His victory is a huge win for the Tea Party as the movement has struggled to gain traction this year in the primaries. 

 Osborn had the backing of allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and ran an aggressive campaign. 

Further scrambling the race, Pinnacle Bank President Dinsdale had sought to capitalize on the Sasse-Osborn fight and had climbed in the polls. 

In recent weeks, big names gravitated to Sasse's side, including Sarah Palin and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Sasse also has the backing of the Club for Growth, the Tea Party Patriots, the Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks. 

Sasse focused on his conservative credentials, opposition to abortion, support for gun rights and goal of repealing and replacing the health care law. 

In one 30-second ad, Sasse's two young daughters, Alex and Corrie, talked about how much their dad opposed the Affordable Care Act.  "He wants to destroy it," said one daughter. "He despises it," said the other. 

However, Sasse advised former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt's firm as the group reached out to businesses and organizations in 2010 to explain and implement the new law. Osborn recently began running a 30-second TV ad linking Sasse to writings and speeches from several years earlier commenting on elements that would become part of the law firmly opposed by most Republicans. 

Outside groups and the candidates have spent millions on the race in which the GOP winner is widely expected to prevail in November. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party's campaign operation, remained neutral. 

The Tea Party movement has struggled in earlier contests, with their favored candidates losing to establishment favorites in Texas, North Carolina and Ohio. 

Looking ahead to upcoming primaries, the Tea Party's chances to upset incumbents have been diminishing in Kentucky, Kansas, Idaho and Mississippi. 

Nebraska also has a fierce race for governor involving two leading candidates in the  Republican primary -- Attorney General Jon Bruning against Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts. Term limits prevented Republican Gov. Dave Heineman from running again. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.