Trump-backed candidate loses big in key primary. Here’s why.

Sebastian Hughes, DCNF

Businessman Jim Pillen won the Republican nomination for Nebraska’s gubernatorial race Tuesday, defeating a scandal-plagued Trump-endorsed candidate.

Several election forecasters projected Pillen had won the three-way primary against Republican state Sen. Brett Lindstrom and Trump-backed Charles Herbster. As of late Tuesday it appeared Herbster could finish a distant second in the race.

Herbster’s loss marks a shift in former President Donald Trump’s endorsement success rate after all 22 of his endorsements swept the Ohio and Indiana primaries on May 3. Trump had endorsed Herbster in October 2021 and reaffirmed his commitment to the candidate in May, despite accusations from eight women that Herbster groped and kissed them without their consent, according to a Nebraska Examiner report.

Republican State sen. Julie Slama told the outlet in April that Herbster reached up her skirt and touched her inappropriately at a 2019 event. Slama was initially the only woman to publicly come forward, but a second woman, 23-year-old Elizabeth Todsen, who used to work for Nebraska Republican state Sen. Dave Murman, later provided her name at the end of April, the Nebraska Examiner reported.

Herbster has denied all allegations.

“We are going to stick by our statement that Charles 100 percent denies these allegations,” Emily Novotny, Herbster’s campaign spokeswoman, said after Todsen made her accusation public, the Nebraska Examiner reported.

Two of the women who asked their identities be withheld are still considering filing a police report, the Nebraska Examiner reported.

Trump threw his support behind Herbster again in May, saying “he’s been maligned, he’s been maligned, he’s been badly maligned and that’s a shame,” KOLN reported.

“That’s why I came out here it would have been easier for me to say I’m not coming out but I defend people when I know they’re good. He’s a good man,” he said.

Incumbent Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts was unable to run again due to term limits and backed Pillen, who owns a large hog operation, in the race, Politico reported.

The next major test of the strength of Trump’s endorsement will come on May 17, when Pennsylvania holds its Republican primary. Former talk show host Mehmet Oz received Trump’s backing in April and received a bump in the polls, but the race appears close.

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