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A couple of hours after former President Donald Trump celebrated the victory of a Republican congressman he had endorsed in a heavily contested primary in West Virginia, Trump’s clout over the GOP took a symbolic hit after the candidate he was backing in Nebraska’s crowded and divisive Republican gubernatorial primary lost.
The Associated Press projected on Tuesday night that multimillionaire hog farmer and University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen had won the GOP nomination. Pillen enjoyed the backing of much of the state’s Republican establishment, as well as the endorsement and support of term-limited Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, whom Pillen hopes to succeed in November’s general election.
The former president suffered a defeat in the race, as Charles Herbster – the candidate he had endorsed and traveled to Nebraska to hold a rally to support – came up short.
According to the latest vote count, Herbster, a multimillionaire agricultural executive, was in second place, slightly ahead of state Sen. Brett Lindstrom, who enjoyed the support of moderate Republicans and cross-over Democrats.
Herbster in recent weeks faced allegations of sexual misconduct from multiple women – including a state senator. His defeat is the first time a candidate endorsed by the former president in the Republican Party primaries has lost during 2022.
Trump, nearly 16 months removed from the White House, remains the most popular and influential politician in the GOP, as he continues to play a kingmaker’s role, endorsing scores of candidates up and down the ballot in this year’s midterm elections, and as he repeatedly teases another presidential run in 2024.
Just a week ago, Trump’s last-minute endorsement of JD Vance in Ohio’s jam-packed, combustible, and expensive Republican Senate primary was instrumental in boosting the former hedge fund executive and best-selling author to victory.
After the candidates he endorsed in Ohio and Indiana – which held primaries on the same day – all were victorious – Trump boasted in a Fox News interview that “I was 22 and 0….I won every race.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump once again reveled in the victory of the lawmaker he backed in a very competitive GOP congressional primary in West Virginia.
“I Love West Virginia. Congratulations to Alex Mooney on his BIG WIN!!!” Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social, after Mooney – with the former president’s backing – won the nomination in the state’s 2nd Congressional District by topping fellow Republican Rep. David McKinley.
West Virginia lost a congressional seat during the once-in-a-decade congressional reapportionment, and Mooney and McKinley were drawn into the state’s newly refigured 2nd District. The race centered on McKinley’s votes in support of the bipartisan infrastructure law and to create the Democratic controlled House selection committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists aiming to disrupt congressional certification of now President Biden’s Electoral College victory over Trump.
Trump was also a key factor in the race, and Mooney at his victory celebration thanked the former president for “his endorsement and support of my campaign – when Donald Trump puts his mind to something, you better watch out.”
McKinley also enjoyed some high-profile support – from two-term West Virginia GOP Gov. Jim Justice – and from longtime moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a former governor, who crossed party lines to star in a TV ad for McKinley.
But Herbster’s loss likely stung Trump.
Trump described Herbster “a good man” at his May 1 Nebraska rally. And pointing to the allegations of sexual misconduct that the candidate has denied, the former president argued that Herbster had been “maligned.”
Trump called Herbster “a die-hard MAGA champion” during a tele-rally last Thursday, and the former president charged that Pillen and Lindstrom were “Republicans in name only.”
Ricketts, the co-chair of the Republican Governors Association, last year tried to dissuade Trump from backing Herbster, and in the ensuing months criticized Herbster as unfit to hold office. And Ricketts, whose wealthy family owns Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs, along with his father – billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts – contributed big bucks to an outside group that targeted Herbster in TV ads.
The group, called Conservative Nebraska, in recent weeks redirected its firepower at Lindstrom, as the state senator’s campaign gained more traction.
Pillen will be considered the clear favorite in red Nebraska in November’s general election against state Sen. Carol Blood, who easily won the Democratic nomination for governor over a little-known candidate.
Trump’s sway over the Republican Party will be tested again next Tuesday, as some of the candidates he’s backed in high-profile statewide contests face potentially challenging paths to victory.
The former president recently endorsed Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s crowded, expensive, and very contentious GOP Senate primary, in a move that split Trump’s political world and millions of supporters across the country. Trump’s backing of the celebrity doctor known as Dr. Oz did little to temper suspicions among many in the Republican Party about the candidate’s conservative credentials. A Fox News poll released on Tuesday is the latest to suggests Oz is locked in a fierce battle with David McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, West Point graduate, Gulf War combat veteran, and Treasury Department official in former President George W. Bush‘s administration, and veteran and conservative political commentator Kathy Barnette.
In Idaho, Trump is backing far-right Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who is one of seven primary challengers running against incumbent Republican Gov. Brad Little, whom polling suggests is the clear front-runner.
Trump has his best shot of victory on May 17 in North Carolina, where last summer he endorsed Rep. Ted Budd in the state’s open GOP-held Senate seat race. For months, Budd was unable to leverage the former president’s endorsement to boost his poll numbers and fundraising figures. But in recent weeks, Budd has surged to front-runner status in the increasingly contentious primary showdown that also includes former Gov. Pat McCrory, and former Rep. Mark Walker.
But a week later, the former president could suffer a major setback in his nearly year and a half long bid to oust Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia.
Four years ago, with the support of Trump, Kemp narrowly defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams to win the governorship. But Kemp earned Trump’s ire starting in late 2020, after the governor certified President Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia in the presidential election following multiple recounts of the vote. Trump, who had unsuccessfully urged the governor and other top Republican officials in the state to overturn the results, has now returned to Georgia twice to campaign against Kemp.
Trump for months urged former Republican Sen. David Perdue to challenge the governor, and late last year he endorsed Perdue a day after the former senator launched his bid. Perdue declared his candidacy a few days after Abrams, a voting rights champion and rising star in the Democratic Party, launched her second straight bid for governor.
But regardless of Trump’s endorsement, with three weeks to go until Georgia’s primary, Kemp enjoys large leads over Perdue in two key campaign metrics – public opinion polling and fundraising.