Donald Trump’s preferred candidate in Nebraska’s Republican gubernatorial primary, businessman Charles Herbster, failed in his bid on Tuesday night, proving that Trump’s kingmaker status isn’t airtight.
The race was upended 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 either at political events or beauty pageants.
Herbster vehemently denied the allegations and went on a Trump-esque campaign to discredit Slama. He even went so far as to file a defamation suit against her.
Trump has previously bragged about his undefeated endorsement record. His ability to reach down and reshape the GOP is being closely followed in advance of an expected 2024 presidential campaign.
Herbster is the first Trump-endorsed candidate to lose during the 2022 cycle.
The truth is that Trump’s picks have lost before, including in Alabama, where Roy Moore lost his bid for a US Senate seat in the face of misconduct allegations, and in North Carolina, where GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn upset Trump’s pick in a 2020 House primary.
Tuesday’s result comes just a week after Trump was credited for catapulting author JD Vance to his win in Ohio’s GOP Senate primary. The two races illustrate that Trump’s backing is helpful for GOP hopefuls but it is not determinative.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, who endorsed Pillen, now has his preferred successor ready to take the reins. But it remains unclear how Herbster will respond after accusing Ricketts of orchestrating a conspiracy to sink his campaign. Herbster has also filed a defamation suit against Slama, which could further divide the party headed into November.
State Sen. Carol Blood easily clinched the Democratic nomination. She faces very long odds to flip the governor’s mansion, which would be aided if Nebraska Republicans fail to close ranks around Pillen.
Nebraskans have not elected a new Democratic governor since 1990, an eon in politics as the state has drifted further to the right.