Overall, it was a split decision for Trump. And while his grip on the Republican Party remains strong, results in Nebraska show it isn’t complete — particularly when he endorses a candidate like wealthy businessman Charles Herbster, who faces multiple allegations of sexual misconduct (which he has all denied).
The clear winner in Nebraska was the state’s Republican establishment.
University of Nebraska Board of Trustees member Jim Palin, CNN’s expected winner in the primary, has been endorsed by limited-term governor Pete Ricketts, and incumbent Republican Representative Don Bacon, who received some criticism from Trump, also won re-nomination. Former Representative Jeff Fortenberry, the Republican who resigned earlier this year after being convicted of a federal crime but remained on the ballot, was blown up by a candidate supported by Ricketts.
Here are four quick notes from Tuesday night’s primary — and a look ahead at more stress tests for Trump next week.
Trump victory booths in Nebraska
Trump’s midterm election streak ended Tuesday night in Nebraska.
A week after the former president swept the state and spoke for two hours at a Herbster rally in the Republican gubernatorial primaries, a broad majority of voters rejected his advice and chose Palin instead, the GOP-backed challenger.
Trump has presided over an era in which all politics have been increasingly nationalized, but an old adage has prevailed in fierce competition governance primaries: All politics is still domestic.
In one of the most costly and ferocious political campaigns in modern Nebraska memory, the support of Ricketts was most important. Not only did Ricketts support Bellen and direct his campaign from the start, he also invested millions of his own money to defeat Herbster.
Trump urged voters to ignore allegations of sexual misconduct against Herbster, saying the allegations of eight women were “malicious.” At a rally on May 1, Trump declared, “He’s been so disgraced and that’s a shame. That’s why I came here.”
In the end, the former president’s supportive words and his visit to Nebraska did not save Herbster, a wealthy agricultural businessman with close ties to the Trump family. He failed to deal with Palin, but appeared to get more votes than the alternate Republican candidate, Senator Brett Lindstrom.
For Trump, it wasn’t his only failure that night.
The Nebraska Republican Party is getting the matches it wants in the House races
Republican Representative Don Bacon, who irked the former president for his bipartisan support for the infrastructure plan, handily won the primaries Tuesday night, despite Trump’s calls for his defeat.
Bacon was moderately critical of the former president during the January 6, 2021 riots in the US Capitol and voted for Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure legislation. Trump, in his Nebraska address earlier this month, called Bacon a “bad guy” and yelled at his rival, businessman Steve Coyle.
“Good luck Steve, whatever the hell you are,” Trump said.
In the end, even those kind words weren’t enough. Trump has not approved the race, and Bacon now has a November date with CNN’s expected winner in the Democratic primary, state Senator Tony Vargas. Vargas, who is highly regarded in Democratic circles, is expected to present a legitimate challenge to Bacon in the Omaha-centric district, which Biden won in the 2020 presidential election.
While Trump won Nebraska with 58% of the vote in 2020 — and almost certainly will win again if he decides to run for president in 2024 — the state’s primary results show the limits of the strength of his support. Bigger tests for Trump still have to take place this month in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and beyond.
Meanwhile, the political fate of former Representative Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned in late March after being convicted of lying to the FBI, has been sealed by Republican voters in the state’s 1st district.
Fortenberry did not campaign, but Trump publicly defended him and his name was put on the ballot – and if he had won, he would have launched a complex GOP operation into a credible red zone. In the end, though, Senator Mike Flood, who was endorsed by both incumbent Governor Pete Ricketts and former Governor Dave Heinemann, won the nomination handily, CNN predicted Tuesday night. Democratic frontrunner Patty Bansing-Brooks will be the front-runner in the general election.
Trump leads justice, Manchin in West Virginia primaries
If Nebraska mostly ignored the former president, at least for one night, West Virginia doubled down on Trump’s advice.
Rep. Alex Mooney, the Trump-backed nominee in his first incumbent primary election, outperformed Rep. David McKinley in the Republican primary for West Virginia’s second congressional district Tuesday night. The race quickly became one of the fiercest in the country, as Mooney attacked McKinley for a vote for a bipartisan infrastructure plan and McKinley accused Mooney, who had previously ran for office in Maryland, of being a carpet.
A bipartisan group of West Virginia power centers attempted to rescue the more pragmatic McKinley, including Republican Governor Jim Justice and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. But in a state that backed Trump by nearly 40 percentage points in 2020, Mooney making the former president’s endorsement the focal point of his campaign was too much for McKinley to beat.
The victory strengthens Trump’s grip on the Republican Party and his desire for revenge. Trump backed Mooney primarily as a means to oust McKinley, who incensed the former president for his support of infrastructure legislation, which gave President Joe Biden a victory, and for supporting a bipartisan investigation into the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol before. Senate Republicans have killed that idea.
Even so, Trump remains by and large the only significant endorsement in the Republican primaries, forcing candidates, especially those from contentious races, to continue to run campaigns to his liking.
Democrats are waiting for big decisions and face a major test for Trump
The first few rounds of the 2022 primaries served as a basis for demonstrating Trump’s ability to bend the Republican Party to his will. That topic will continue on next week’s slate, especially in Pennsylvania, where his pro-Senate candidate, Dr. Mehmet Oz, is locked in what is shaping up to be a three-way race, with David McCormick and Cathy Barnett, for the Republican nomination.
Trump is also looking to praise in North Carolina, where Republican Senate candidate Rep. Ted Budd, former governor Pat McCrory, and former U.S. Representatives Mark Walker and Marjorie Eastman have led in opinion polls.
But the May 17 primaries will also pose big questions for the Democratic Party, which will pick its own candidate for the open seat in the Keystone State Senate. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a progressive champion, is the front-runner in that contest, with moderate Rep. Conor Lamb his closest challenger, according to recent polls.
Pennsylvania, Oregon, and North Carolina are also home to a handful of House Democratic primaries that pit progressives against moderates who have been boosted in a few races by notable amounts of outside spending.
Most of the contested primaries are for open seats, but in Oregon’s redrawn Fifth Congressional district, Representative Kurt Schrader faces a tough challenge from Jamie MacLeod Skinner, whose local supporters have bumped into the Democratic leadership in Washington.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misinterpreted the congressional district as Representative Alex Mooney defeated Representative David McKinley in the Republican primary on Tuesday. The second district was in West Virginia.