Nebraska Governor’s Primary Race Pits Trump-Backed Candidate Accused Of Sexual Misconduct Against Two Other Republicans

Voters in Nebraska and West Virginia will go to the polls on Tuesday to cast their ballots in primary elections that will once again test former President Donald Trump’s influence over Republican primary voters.

Trump has endorsed candidates in several races, including the highest-profile contests to be the Republican nominee in the race to be Nebraska’s next governor and a matchup between two incumbents for a West Virginia congressional seat.

Here are the key races to watch on Tuesday night:

Governor of Nebraska

The main race to watch on Tuesday night will be the Republican gubernatorial primary in Nebraska. Trump has endorsed businessman and longtime ally Charles Herbster, who has been accused of groping by multiple women, including two who have spoken openly about his experiences.

Herbster fiercely denies those allegations and released an ad accusing his opponent of conspiring with one of the women filing a claim against him. His campaign manager told The Nebraska Examiner, which he first reported on the allegations, that it was “a political coup based on 100% false and baseless claims.”

Trump traveled to Nebraska on May 1 to hold a pro-Herbster campaign rally, telling the crowd that he thinks Herbster is “a very good man.” Herbster donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump’s presidential campaigns.

“It’s been heavily maligned, and it’s a shame,” Trump said at the rally. “I defend people when I know they are good.”

Former President Trump Gathers Supporters in Nebraska
Campaign signs supporting Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster decorate the grounds of I-80 Speedway before the start of a rally with former President Donald Trump on May 1, 2022 in Greenwood, Nebraska.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Like other candidates who received Trump’s endorsements, Herbster features the former president in his campaign messages.

Herbster is in a tough primary fight against businessman and University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen and state Senator Brett Lindstrom. Pillen has received influential endorsements from Governor Pete Ricketts, the Nebraska Farm Bureau and longtime Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne.

Lindstrom has campaigned as a more moderate alternative in the race.

One development to watch Tuesday night will be the role of Democrats and independents who have recently changed their party affiliation. According to the Nebraska secretary of state’s office, there were approximately 6,400 more registered Republicans in early May than there were in April.

The total number of registered voters increased by only about 400 people, while the number of registered Democrats decreased by about 4,000 voters and registered nonpartisans decreased by about 2,000 people.

The prevailing candidate is expected to face Democratic state Sen. Carol Blood in November.

blueberry seat

On Tuesday, Nebraskans will also vote in a primary election to fill a congressional seat vacated by former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned in march after he was convicted of lying to federal authorities about an illegal campaign donation of a foreign citizen.

Ricketts and former Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman are among those who endorsed state Sen. Mike Flood in the primary election. Several other candidates are vying for the chance to represent the party in November.

Fortenberry’s name is still on the ballot Tuesday because he withdrew after the deadline to certify candidates, according to the Associated Press.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks is running against University of Nebraska student Jazari Kual Zakaria.

Separately, Flood and Pansing Brooks will also run in a special election on June 28 to serve the remainder of Fortenberry’s current term.

West Virginia

Due to redistricting with the 2020 US Census, West Virginia is losing a seat in Congress. That means incumbent Republican congressmen David McKinley and Alex Mooney find themselves in a unique situation: competing against each other in the 2nd District Republican primary.

McKinley, a six-term Republican congressman and seventh-generation West Virginian, has the endorsement of popular Gov. Jim Justice. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin even made an ad for him. But there is one looming figure whose backing he does not have, and it could cost him his race: former President Donald Trump.

Trump, who won every county in the state in 2020, endorses Mooney, a four-term congressman who previously served in the Maryland state senate before moving to West Virginia. Mooney’s campaign has been prominently promoting his endorsement of Trump, featuring him on campaign posters and in ads. They did a television rally together, and Mooney flew to Pennsylvania on Friday to appear in person at a Trump rally.

While McKinley and Mooney have little light on each other on most issues, the bipartisan infrastructure bill that will bring billions in funding to the state for roads, bridges, broadband and clean water has driven a wedge between them. McKinley voted for the bill while Mooney did not.

“At some point, Republicans have to start saying no to more debt in America,” Mooney told CBS News of his no vote.

“The question is, should we vote for the party or should we vote for West Virginia? To me, it’s about West Virginia,” McKinley said, defending his yes vote. “We have the opportunity to be on a level playing field with the rest of the country in our infrastructure.”

Even without Trump’s coveted endorsement, McKinley knows how important his role is in the race, arguing that he has “a better voting record with Donald Trump than my opponent.” But his fate in the Republican primary may be sealed. A poll released Friday by MetroNews West Virginia shows Mooney leading McKinley by 15 points among likely voters.

Three other Republicans, Susan Buchser-Lochocki, Rhonda Hercules and Mike Seckman, are also running for the seat.

In West Virginia’s 1st congressional district, incumbent Republican Carol Miller, who previously represented the 3rd congressional district, is in a primary against four other Republicans.

Fin Gómez contributed to this report.

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