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Jim Pillen has won the Republican nomination for Nebraska governor, the Associated Press said Tuesday evening, defeating Trump-endorsed candidate Charles Herbster, who spent the final weeks of the campaign denying sexual misconduct allegations from multiple women—dealing a major blow to Trump’s endorsement power.
Pillen had 33.4% of the vote with 84% of precincts reporting late Tuesday night, followed by Herbster at 28.7% and Brett Lindstrom at 27.7%, according to figures compiled by the AP.
Six other primary candidates had fewer than 10% of the vote each.
What To Watch For
Pillen will face off against Democratic nominee Carol Blood in November’s general election. Republicans are heavily favored to win: The state is reliably conservative, and it elected its last Democratic governor in the mid-1990s.
A businessman and Republican donor, Herbster earned Trump’s endorsement late last year, and his campaign pitch—replete with references to Nebraska’s political “swamp” and promises to back “America First” policies—has sometimes echoed Trump’s. Meanwhile, Pillen—an agribusiness executive and University of Nebraska regent who has pushed to ban “critical race theory” in the state college system—has earned the backing of term-limited incumbent Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), and Lindstrom—a state senator—has gotten support from some moderate voters and ex-Democrats. Last month, several women accused Herbster of groping them in recent years, including a state senator who said Herbster reached up her skirt at a local Republican event in 2019. Pillen called Herbster’s alleged behavior “disgusting” in an interview, and Ricketts called it disqualifying and “beyond horrible” in a statement. However, Herbster has fervently denied the allegations, filing a defamation suit against the state senator who accused him of misconduct, and Trump has defended Herbster, calling him “the most innocent human being” at a rally to support Herbster in Nebraska last week.
The successes and failures of Trump-endorsed candidates are often seen as a referendum on the former president’s power over the Republican Party. His endorsement track record is somewhat uncertain: Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance vaulted from 10% support in pre-election polls to Republican primary victory following Trump’s endorsement, but Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) still holds a commanding polling lead over Trump-backed primary challenger David Perdue ahead of the state’s May 24 election. Before Herbster’s defeat Tuesday, allies like Donald Trump Jr. touted the fact that Trump-endorsed candidates hadn’t lost any primaries this year, though many endorsees were incumbents running in fairly uncompetitive races.