Tuesday’s Nebraska Governor’s Primary to Test Trump Endorsement

GREENWOOD, NEBRASKA - MAY 01: Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster speaks during a rally at the I-80 Speedway hosted by former President Donald Trump on May 01, 2022 in Greenwood, Nebraska. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images

A hotly contested gubernatorial primary happening in Nebraska on Tuesday could put an end to former President Donald Trump’s current primary winning streak.

The primary will follow Trump seeing sweeping victories for his endorsed candidates in Texas, Ohio, and Indiana. Trump went 33 for 33 in Texas as his endorsees there all won or advanced to runoffs, and last week, 22 out of 22 of his candidates won their races in Ohio and Indiana.

But Nebraska’s gubernatorial race shows signs of uncertainty for the former president.

Two wealthy agriculture businessmen stand out as frontrunners in the primary: the Trump-endorsed candidate, Charles Herbster, and Jim Pillen, who is backed by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) and the powerful Ricketts family. Ricketts is term-limited this year and unable to seek reelection.

Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen, center, talks about his campaign after receiving an endorsement from Gov. Pete Ricketts, right on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, at the state Capitol in Lincoln, Neb. Pillen is in a crowded primary race to succeed Ricketts, who leaves office next year because term limits, and he's been endorsed by former Gov. Kay Orr, left. (AP Photo/Grant Schulte)

Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen appears after receiving an endorsement from Gov. Pete Ricketts, right, and Gov. Kay Orr, left, on January 18, 2022, at the Capitol in Lincoln. (AP Photo/Grant Schulte)

A third candidate, state Sen. Brett Lindstrom, is also considered a frontrunner and campaigns as the most moderate of the three candidates.

Herbster, an early supporter of Trump who appeared at Trump’s 2015 campaign launch and donated to him in the primary, has heavily promoted the former president’s endorsement as part of his campaign for governor. Trump, for his part, endorsed Herbster in October, praising him as having been “a tremendous supporter of America First and Make America Great Again, right from the beginning.”

Herbster’s campaign took a hit in April after allegations that he inappropriately touched multiple women surfaced in the Nebraska Examiner. Herbster’s campaign “unequivocally” denied the allegations, calling them “a political hit-piece built on 100% false and baseless claims.”

Trump, undeterred, doubled down on his support for Herbster, holding a rally in Greenwood for him on May 1 and a tele-rally last week.

The Greenwood rally, which took place about two weeks after the misconduct allegations broke, “drew thousands” of Trump supporters, according to local outlet WOWT. Trump said at the event, “I think Charles is going to do very well, and if he [wins], you’ll be very happy and you’re gonna have an even more prosperous state. We’ve made it very prosperous, and I really think he’s going to do just a fantastic job, and if I didn’t feel that, I wouldn’t be here.”

Several in Trump’s orbit have also rallied behind Herbster, including Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who has been active in supporting Herbster from the outset of his campaign, as well as others such as Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore, Trump adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and CPAC chair Matt Schlapp.

Meanwhile, Pillen, a University of Nebraska regent with the prominent Ricketts family in his corner, has picked up endorsements from a slew of state lawmakers, the Nebraska Farm Bureau, and personalities such as Larry the Cable Guy and the former longtime University of Nebraska football coach and former Rep. Tom Osborne.

The latest polling, conducted April 30 to May 2 and released by the Pillen campaign, showed Pillen in first place, boasting a lead that had widened from the same polling firm’s previous survey. Pillen came in five points ahead of Herbster, at 31 percent compared to Herbster’s 26 percent. Lindstrom received 16 percent, while 19 percent said they were undecided.

A poll conducted in early March on behalf of Herbster by Conway’s firm painted a different picture, however, showing Herbster up nine points over Pillen and ten points over Lindstrom. Herbster received 27 percent support, Pillen 18 percent, and Lindstrom 17 percent. A plurality of respondents, 35 percent, said they were undecided.

The race has also been one of the most expensive state contests in history. Herbster, who has far outspent his opponents, has been largely self-funded, having donated to his campaign $11.5 million of the $11.8 million he has raised, according to the most recent financials reported in the Nebraska Examiner. Pillen has raised $8.4 million, and Lindstrom has raised $2.5 million.

Herbster is characterizing his campaign in part as a battle against Pillen and the Nebraska establishment and, evoking Trump, vows to “make Nebraska great again.” His ability to prevail against Pillen, or Lindstrom, would be owed in no small part to Trump’s influence.

GREENWOOD, NEBRASKA - MAY 01: Former President Donald Trump arrives for a rally at the I-80 Speedway on May 01, 2022 in Greenwood, Nebraska. Trump is supporting Charles Herbster in the Nebraska gubernatorial race. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump arrives for a rally at the I-80 Speedway on May 1, 2022, in Greenwood, Nebraska. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In Ohio, Trump’s endorsement was undoubtedly game-changing for Senate candidate J.D. Vance, who won a heated five-way primary contest after surging in momentum right as Trump endorsed him late in the election.

In another instance of Trump being at odds with the wealthy Ricketts family, Todd Ricketts, Pete Ricketts’ brother, poured cash into supporting Vance’s opponent Jane Timken, though Todd Ricketts told Breitbart News he had backed Timken well before Trump weighed in on the race. The Rickettses also donated against Trump in early 2016, but in his endorsement announcement of Herbster, Trump showed no sign of animosity, stating, “It is particularly important that a great Governor (Pete Ricketts has been terrific!) be elected to help fortify the State.”

In addition to Herbster in Nebraska, Trump faces a difficult road ahead with multiple other candidates. While some, such as Rep. Ted Budd in North Carolina, are soaring in polls and favored to win, others may serve to test Trump’s influence.

Former Sen. David Perdue, whom Trump has been highly vocal in supporting, is trailing Trump nemesis Gov. Brian Kemp by a wider and wider margin ahead of the May 24 primary in Georgia. Dr. Mehmet Oz, who shares Trump’s TV celebrity background, is also in a tight seemingly three-way race in Pennsylvania, and when Trump endorsed Oz, he was met with significant backlash from some of his more prominent supporters.

Trump is well-liked in Nebraska, a solid red state he won by nearly 20 points in 2020. Nevertheless, the Pillen campaign anticipates a victory on Tuesday. Spokesman John Gage told Breitbart News in no uncertain terms, “We are confident Jim Pillen will be the winner on May 10th.”

There is no runoff in Nebraska, and the race could easily come down to a handful of votes. A closely divided primary battle occurred not too long ago, in 2014, when Ricketts defeated Jon Bruning by about one percent, or 2,300 votes, in that year’s gubernatorial race.

Polls will close in Nebraska on Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. Central time and 7:00 p.m. Mountain time.

Write to Ashley Oliver at aoliver@breitbart.com. Follow her on Twitter at @asholiver.


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