OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Nebraska Republicans will choose a gubernatorial candidate on Tuesday in a bitter primary race that has been upended in recent weeks after a top candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump was accused of groped at least eight women during the last years.
Charles Herster, a businessman and cattle rancher who has denied the allegations, is in a nine-vote GOP primary to replace Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is barred by term limit laws from running again. Other leading candidates include Jim Pillena Ricketts-approved veterinarian and hog farm owner, and State Senator Brett Lindstroman Omaha financial adviser who has recently gained traction with increased funding and support from the city’s Republican mayor.
The winner will become a big favorite in November’s general election in Republican-dominated Nebraska. State Senator Carol Blood is the top contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Nebraska and West Virginia hold primary elections Tuesday night, with select races providing some measure of the former president’s enduring influence over GOP voters. In addition to the Nebraska gubernatorial race, Trump weighed in on a West Virginia congressional primary between two Republican incumbents. The former president backed Rep. Alex Mooney over Rep. David McKinley, who angered Trump by voting for President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure package and the creation of the House committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Trump faces some of the biggest tests of his influence in Republican primary elections later this month. In Pennsylvania, his endorsed Senate nominee, TV’s Dr. Mehmet Ozis locked in a competitive race against former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and five others, while his candidate in North Carolina, U.S. Representative Ted Budd, is competing in a field that includes a dozen other Republicans. In Georgia, Trump endorsed key challengers Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffenspergerwho both challenged him by rejecting his false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
In Nebraska, allegations against Herbster, a longtime Trump supporter, didn’t stop the former president from holding a rally with him earlier this month.
“I really think he’s going to do a fantastic job, and if I didn’t feel it, I wouldn’t be here,” Trump said at the rally at a racetrack outside Omaha.
In a story last month, the Nebraska Examiner interviewed six women who claimed that Herbster had fondled his buttocks, outside of his clothes, at political events or beauty contests. A seventh woman said Herbster once cornered her in private and forcefully kissed her.
One of the accusers, Republican Senator Julie Slama, said Herbster lifted her skirt and inappropriately touched her at the Douglas County Republican Party’s annual Elephant Remembers Dinner in 2019. The Associated Press does not generally does not identify people who claim to be victims of sexual acts. unless they choose to come forward publicly, as Slama did.
Herbster filed a defamation suit against Slama, claiming that she had falsely accused him in an attempt to derail his campaign. Slama responded with a countersuit against Herbster, alleging sexual assault.
Herbster has suggested in TV ads that Pillen and Ricketts conspired with Slama to falsely accuse him of sexual assault – allegations all three deny.
Lindstrom has also faced a barrage of attacks, with third-party Ricketts-funded TV ads portraying him as too liberal for the conservative state. A digitally altered ad shows Lindstrom standing in front of a rainbow flag with a coronavirus mask superimposed over her face. A mail ad says Lindstrom has been endorsed by U.S. Representative Brad Ashford, a moderate Republican turned Democrat who died last month of brain cancer.
Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen, a Republican, predicted that 35% of registered voters would vote in the primary, the highest percentage since 2006 in what he has seen so far.
Nebraska Republicans and Democrats will also choose their candidates to run for the seat previously held by Republican U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned from office. and ended his re-election bid in March after being convicted of federal corruption charges.
State Sen. Mike Flood, former Speaker of the Nebraska Legislative Assembly, is a leading contender for the Republican nomination, while State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks is likely to win the Democratic nod. Flood will enter the race as a heavy favorite in the densely populated Republican 1st congressional district, which includes Lincoln, small towns and much of eastern Nebraska’s farmland.
In the Omaha area, Republican U.S. Rep. Don Bacon faces a long-running main challenge from Omaha consultant Steve Kuehl in the 2nd congressional district. Democrats Alisha Shelton and State Senator Tony Vargas are also running for their party’s nomination in Nebraska’s only competitive congressional district.
Trump lambasted Bacon during his visit, calling him “nasty.” The former president slammed the three-term Republican for backing Biden’s infrastructure law. Bacon has been mildly critical of Trump in the past, saying he bore some responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack.
Trump stopped short of officially endorsing Kuehl, however, saying, “I think Steve will be fine. Good luck, Steve, whoever you are.
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