Trump-Backed Nebraska Candidate Charles Herbster Loses GOP Primary

  • Trump’s handpicked candidate failed to win the Republican primary for governor of Nebraska.
  • Businessman Charles Herbster fell in the wake of multiple career-changing sexual assault allegations.
  • Tuesday’s result shows that Trump’s endorsement is not a 100% guarantee of victory in a close race.

Former President Donald Trump’s preferred candidate in the Nebraska Republican gubernatorial primary, businessman Charles Herbster, failed in his bid Tuesday night, showing that Trump’s kingmaker status is not watertight.

Regent Jim Pillen of the University of Nebraska is expected to win the contest, projects Decision Desk HQ.

The race was turned upside down in late March when The Nebraska Examiner, a local nonprofit media outlet, reported that eight women had accused Herbster of sexual assault.

Six women, including state Sen. Julie Slama, claimed that Herbster groped them at political events or beauty pageants. Herbster vehemently denied the allegations and waged a Trump-style campaign to discredit Slama. She even went so far as to file a defamation lawsuit against her.

Trump has previously boasted of his undefeated endorsement record. His ability to reach out and reshape the GOP is being closely watched ahead of an expected 2024 presidential campaign. Herbster is the first Trump-backed candidate to lose during the 2022 cycle.

The truth is, Trump has lost elections before, including in Alabama, where Roy Moore lost his bid for a US Senate seat due to allegations of misconduct, and in North Carolina, where Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn defeated Trump’s pick for a 2020 House seat. primary.

Tuesday’s result comes just a week after Trump was credited with catapulting author JD Vance to victory in the Republican primary for the Ohio Senate. The two contests illustrate that Trump’s endorsement is helpful to Republican hopefuls, but not decisive.

It wasn’t all bad news for Trump: Rep. Alex Mooney, his pick for the nation’s first incumbent in the cycle’s incumbent primary, won West Virginia.

Jim Pillen (center), Kay Orr and Pete Ricketts

University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen speaks during a news conference in January, flanked by Governor Pete Ricketts and former Governor Kay Orr.

Grant Schulte/AP

Gov. Pete Ricketts, who backed Pillen, now has his preferred successor ready to take the reins. But it’s unclear how Herbster will respond after accusing Ricketts of orchestrating a conspiracy to bring down his campaign. Herbster also filed a libel suit against Slama, which could further divide the party heading into November.

State Senator Carol Blood easily clinched the Democratic nomination. She faces very high odds of changing the governor’s mansion, which would be helped if Nebraska Republicans fail to rally around Pillen.

Nebraskans have not elected a new Democratic governor since 1990, an eon in politics in which the state has veered further to the right.

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