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Sen. Ben Sasse already has raised $2.2 million in campaign funds more than a year in advance of the 2020 Republican primary election and appears on course to be ready to conduct a $6 million reelection campaign.

The missing ingredient is final word from the senator that he indeed will be a candidate for a second term next year.

Sasse has said he will reach that decision sometime this summer during conversations with his wife, Melissa.

The freshman senator had for a time appeared to be potentially vulnerable to a substantial primary challenge, but the prospect of a major Republican opponent has been steadily drifting away.

"We need to reelect Ben Sasse to the U.S. Senate," Gov. Pete Ricketts recently told the Republican state central committee.

Sasse's first-quarter campaign finance report, which was due Monday, shows $2,036,527 in campaign cash on hand. That total jumps to $2,253,000 when it includes other political committees also controlled by the senator.

"The fundamentals for a Ben Sasse reelection are rock solid," said Tyler Grassmeyer, the senator's 2014 campaign manager.

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"Ben is one of the most conservative members of the Senate, his poll numbers are high without having spent a dime, and a whole bunch of Nebraskans are jumping the gun to endorse before the formal announcement," he said.

"A challenger would stumble right into a buzzsaw if they try to run against Senator Sasse's grassroots momentum, conservative record and loaded $2.25 million war chest," Grassmeyer said.

Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman ruled out a Senate bid long ago, and wealthy Falls City farmer and businessman Charles Herbster contributed to the Sasse reelection campaign last month.

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Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has made it clear that it will oppose any primary challenger.

"Let there be no ambiguity," NRSC executive director Kevin McLaughlin recently told The Hill. "Senator Sasse has the unflinching support of the NRSC, and we will not hesitate to engage on his behalf."

The Club for Growth already has endorsed Sasse for reelection. It spent more than $880,000 to support him in 2014.

The Sasse campaign appears well on its way to accumulating more than $3 million before next year's primary election, exceeding the $3 million that Sasse spent in 2014 to win a crowded GOP primary contest.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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