(Headline USA) In a primary marred by scandal allegations and an establishment candidate backed by mainstream media, Republican voters in Nebraska narrowly picked Jim Pillen as their nominee for governor, 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, a hog farm owner and veterinarian, defeated eight challengers, including Charles Herbster, a businessman who faced a hit job of 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 had called to concede.
While Trump-endorsed candidates won primary races in West Virginia for the U.S. House on Tuesday, the statewide loss in Nebraska was a minor setback for Trump. His endorsed candidate, Herbster, was derailed by a barrage of late-breaking accusations of sexual misconduct. But even through all the negative noise, the Trump endorsement appeared to still carry weight, with Herbster pulling respectable numbers.
Trump has issued hundreds of endorsements and staged his signature campaign-style rallies in support of his preferred candidates, reeling off a mighty 58-1 record of Ws, further imprinting MAGA and America First as a driving force in the GOP 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 Democrat 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.
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.
Some voters said the allegations didn’t dissuade them from backing Herbster.
As she voted at an elementary school in northwest Omaha on Tuesday, Joann Kotan said she was “upset by the stories, but I don’t know if I believe them.” Ultimately, the 74-year-old said, she voted for Herbster “because President Trump recommended him.”
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.
Devon Leesley said he backed the 41-year-old Lindstrom because “it’s time to hand over the politics to the next generation.” Pillen and Herbster are both in their 60s.
The 45-year-old Leesley, who lives in Omaha, said he didn’t pay much attention to the various endorsements in the race.
“I don’t trust any politician talking about any other politician. It’s all dirt,” he said. “We would never vote for anybody if we listened to their opponent.”
Nebraska Republicans and Democrats also picked their candidates for the seat previously held by Republican U.S. 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 Democrat 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.
Despite Trump’s loss in the Nebraska governor’s race, his influence proved decisive in West Virginia, which also held primary elections Tuesday. In a race pitting two Republican incumbents against each other, Trump’s candidate, Rep. Alex Mooney, defeated Rep. David McKinley, a RINO candidate who supported the Biden infrastructure boondoggle and the creation of the J6 Inquisition.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press