Jim Pillen has won the primary for the GOP nomination in Nebraska, beating the Trump-backed candidate Charles Herbster and Brett Lindstrom.
Pillen, a businessman and University of Nebraska Regent, had the endorsement of current Governor Pete Ricketts and longtime Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne. Herbster’s defeat is Trump’s most significant endorsement loss since he left office and first of 2022, although he also endorsed a congressional candidate in Texas who lost a 2021 race.
Trump’s picks swept the primaries last week in Ohio, butanother test of his influence – with a candidate tainted by scandal.
Herbster had been accused of groping by multiple women, including two who have spoken of their experiences openly. He has fiercely denied the allegations, and his campaign manager told The Nebraska Examiner, which first reported the allegations, that it was “a political hit-piece built on 100% false and baseless claims.”
At a rally on May 1 in Nebraska, Trump called Herbster a “good man.”
“He’s been badly maligned, and it’s a shame,” Trump said of Herbster. “I defend people when I know they’re good.”
On Tuesday night, Herbster called the campaign “one of the nastiest governor races in the state of Nebraska,” adding, “none of us want to go home tonight realizing that might have played a very, very significant role in the results.” Still, he called on the GOP to unify going forward.
“We have to try to unite the Republican Party in Nebraska. It’s going to take some work,” Herbster said. “We have to do that. It’s necessary. I’m going to go to the event tomorrow and have the chance to shake Jim Pillen’s hand.”
Ricketts cheered Pillen’s win in a statement, saying, “Jim is a true conservative that will bring his private sector experience to make government run more like a business. Nebraska families and ag producers should consider themselves fortunate to call him ‘Governor Pillen’ next January.”
Pillen focused on unity and the future in his victory speech Tuesday night, saying “we’re going to focus on what’s best for Nebraska.”
“We’re going to invest the farm in our kids so all our kids know the grass is greenest in Nebraska,” he said. He also reaffirmed his desire to “end abortion in Nebraska” and spoke about the desire to focus on agriculture and education.
Pillen is the heavy favorite in November against Democratic state Senator Carol Blood, who won her party’s nomination Tuesday night.
So far, with the polls closed in both Nebraska and West Virginia, the two states holding primaries on Tuesday night, one Trump-approved candidate has already prevailed.
Trump did see one of his candidates win Tuesday. In West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, Trump-backed Republican Alex Mooney beat fellow Republican David McKinley. The two congressmen were drawn into the same House seat after the state lost a congressional district after the 2020 Census.
McKinley, a six-term Republican congressman and seventh-generation West Virginian, had the backing of popular Governor Jim Justice and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. In an unusual development, one of the key issues was infrastructure spending — but in this case, the favored candidate was the one who voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Mooney, and McKinley, who voted for the package, lost. Trump, who won every county in the state in 2020, backed Mooney because of that “no” vote.
McKinley said in a statement Tuesday night that he was “proud that I have always stood up for what’s right for West Virginia — even when it hurt me politically,” alluding to his infrastructure vote.
“The groundwork we have laid over the last twelve years has paved the way for a more prosperous and diverse West Virginia economy,” McKinley said.
David McIntosh, president for the Club for Growth PAC, an outside GOP group that backed Mooney, said in a statement that Mooney’s win “is a clear sign that Republicans want their Members of Congress to be real conservatives as opposed to moderate RINOS.”
The incumbent-versus-incumbent matchup between McKinley and Mooney is one of five this year.
In Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District, the seat formerly occupied by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, whoafter he was about from a foreign national, state Sen. Mike Flood won. Flood, who had three challengers, had received endorsements from Ricketts and former Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman.
He faces Democrat state Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, who won the Democratic primary Tuesday night The two are also running in a separate race on June 28 to fill out the remainder of Fortenberry’s term.