Nebraska governor primary: Trump’s candidate loses

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Republican voters in Nebraska picked Jim Pillen as their nominee for governor on Tuesday, siding with the University of Nebraska regent backed by the state’s outgoing governor over a rival supported by former President Donald Trump and accused of groping multiple women.

Pillen, 66, a hog farm owner and veterinarian, defeated eight challengers, including Charles Herbster, 68, a businessman who faced groping allegations late in the campaign, and Brett Lindstrom, a state senator and Omaha financial adviser who was generally viewed as a more moderate choice.

“We live in the greatest place on the planet, right here in Nebraska,” Pillen said in a victory speech late Tuesday as a crowd cheered and chanted, “Let’s go, Jim!” He said his opponents his had called to concede.

While Trump-endorsed candidates won primary races in West Virginia for the US House on Tuesday, the statewide loss in Nebraska was a setback for Trump. He has issued hundreds of endorsements and staged his signature campaign-style rallies in support of his preferred candidates, including Herbster, all in an effort to bend the GOP in his direction his ahead of another possible presidential run in 2024.

Herbster’s loss raises the stakes on other high-profile races this month in Pennsylvania and Georgia, where Trump has also intervened in campaigns.

In this Republican stronghold, Pillen will be a favorite in November’s general election against his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Carol Blood. Nebraska hasn’t elected a Democrat as governor since 1994.

Pillen was endorsed by many top GOP leaders in the state, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, former Gov. Kay Orr, and renowned former University of Nebraska football coach and congressman Tom Osborne. Ricketts was prevented by term limits from running again.

In Nebraska, the allegations against Herbster, a longtime supporter of Trump, didn’t stop the former president from holding a rally with him earlier this month.

“I really think he’s going to do just a fantastic job, and if I didn’t feel that, I wouldn’t be here,” said Trump, who has denied sexual misconduct allegations of his own.

Herbster alluded to the groping allegations in a concession speech late Tuesday.

“This is one of the nastiest campaigns for governor in the history of Nebraska,” and may have affected the results, Herbster said, adding that it was “in God’s hands.”

Lindstrom congratulated Pillen on his victory and said he would support him in the general election.

In a story last month, the Nebraska Examiner interviewed six women who claimed Herbster had groped their buttocks, outside of their clothes, during political events or beauty pageants. A seventh woman said Herbster once cornered her privately and kissed her forcibly.

One of the accusers, Republican state Sen. Julie Slama, said Herbster reached up her skirt and touched her inappropriately at the Douglas County Republican Party’s annual Elephant Remembers dinner in 2019. The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they choose to come forward publicly, as Slama has done.

Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster shakes hands with former President Donald Trump during a campaign rally for Herbster, May 1, 2022, in Greenwood, Neb. (Kenneth Ferriera/Lincoln Journal Star via AP, File)

Herbster filed a defamation lawsuit against Slama, saying she falsely accused him in an effort to derail his campaign. Slama responded with a countersuit against Herbster, alleging sexual battery.

Lindstrom faced a barrage of attacks as well, with third-party television ads funded by Ricketts that portray him as too liberal for the conservative state. One digitally altered ad shows Lindstrom standing in front of a rainbow flag with a coronavirus mask superimposed over his face.

Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen, a Republican who also won renomination on Tuesday, predicted that 35% of registered voters would cast ballots in the primary, the highest percentage since 2006, based on what he had seen so far.

Nebraska Republicans and Democrats also picked their candidates for the seat previously held by Republican US Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned from office and ended his reelection bid in March after he was convicted of federal corruption charges.

State Sen. Mike Flood, a former speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, won the Republican nomination, while state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks won the Democratic nod. Flood will enter the race as a strong favorite in the Republican-heavy 1st Congressional District, which includes Lincoln, small towns and a large swath of eastern Nebraska farmland.

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