4 takeaways from the Nebraska and West Virginia primaries

All in all, it was a split decision for Trump. And while his grip on the Republican Party remains strong, results in Nebraska show he’s not all-out – especially when backing a candidate like wealthy businessman Charles Herbster, who faces multiple allegations of sexual misconduct (all of which he denied).

The clear winner in Nebraska, however, was the state’s Republican establishment.

University of Nebraska Board of Regents member Jim Pillen, CNN’s projected winner in the primary, was endorsed by term-limited Governor Pete Ricketts, and incumbent GOP Rep. Don Bacon, who had been criticized by Trump, was also renamed. Former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican who resigned earlier this year after being convicted of a federal crime but remained on the ballot, was ousted by a Ricketts-backed candidate.

Here are four takeaways from Tuesday night’s primaries — and a look at more stress tests for Trump in the week ahead.

Trump’s winning race stops in Nebraska

Trump’s midterm election streak ended Tuesday night in Nebraska.

A week after the former president strode into the state and spoke for two hours at a rally for Herbster in the Republican gubernatorial primary, a large majority of voters rejected his advice and chose Pillen instead. , the GOP establishment-backed candidate.

Trump presided over a time when all politics is increasingly nationalized, but an age-old adage has prevailed in the fiercely competitive gubernatorial primary: all politics is always local.

In one of the most expensive and vicious political campaigns in recent memory in Nebraska, it was Ricketts’ endorsement that mattered most. Ricketts not only supported Pillen and guided his campaign from the start, he also invested millions of his own money to defeat Herbster.

Trump implored voters to ignore the sexual misconduct allegations against Herbster, saying the eight women’s allegations were “malicious.” At a May Day rally, Trump said, “He’s been badly maligned and that’s a shame. That’s why I came here.”

In the end, the former president’s words of support and his visit to Nebraska did not save Herbster, a wealthy agribusinessman close to the Trump family. He fell short of Pillen, but appeared to receive more votes than another Republican candidate, Sen. Brett Lindstrom.

For Trump, that wasn’t his only failure of the night.

Nebraska GOP gets the matchups it wants in home races

Representative Don Bacon, a Republican who angered the former president for backing the bipartisan infrastructure plan, easily won his primary on Tuesday night, despite calls from Trump to defeat him.

Bacon had lightly criticized the former president during the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the United States Capitol and voted for Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure legislation. Trump, during his speech in Nebraska earlier this month, called Bacon “nasty” and shouted at his challenger, businessman Steve Kuehl.

“Good luck, Steve,” Trump said, “whoever you are.”

In the end, even those kind words weren’t enough. Trump has not endorsed the race, and Bacon now has a November date with CNN’s predicted winner of the Democratic primary, State Sen. Tony Vargas. Highly regarded in Democratic circles, Vargas is expected to issue a legitimate challenge to Bacon in a district, centered in Omaha, that Biden won in the 2020 presidential election.

While Trump won Nebraska with 58% of the vote in 2020 — and would almost certainly win again if he decided to run for president in 2024 — the outcome of the state’s primary showed the limits of the power of his approvals. And even bigger tests for Trump are yet to come this month in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and beyond.

Meanwhile, the political fate of former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned in late March after being convicted of lying to the FBI, has been sealed by Republican primary voters in the state’s 1st congressional district.

Fortenberry didn’t mount a campaign, but Trump publicly defended him and his name was locked in the ballot — and, had he won, would have triggered a messy process for the GOP in a reliable red district. In the end, however, State Sen. Mike Flood, endorsed by both current Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman, easily won the nomination, CNN projected Tuesday night. He will be a heavy favorite against Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks in the general election.

Trump leads Justice and Manchin in West Virginia primary

If Nebraska mostly ignored the former president, at least for one night, West Virginia doubled down on Trump’s advice.

Representative Alex Mooney, the Trump-backed candidate in the first incumbent-vs-incumbent primary of the year, edged out Representative David McKinley in the GOP primary for West Virginia’s 2nd congressional district on Tuesday night. The race quickly became one of the most vicious in the country, with Mooney attacking McKinley for voting in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure plan and McKinley accusing Mooney, who previously ran for office in Maryland, of being a baggage handler .

A bipartisan group of West Virginia power centers tried to save the more pragmatic McKinley, including Republican Gov. Jim Justice and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. But in a state that has backed Trump by nearly 40 percentage points in 2020, Mooney making the former president’s endorsement the focus of his campaign was too much for McKinley to overcome.

This victory further strengthens Trump’s grip on the Republican Party and its desire for revenge. Trump backed Mooney primarily as a vehicle to oust McKinley, who angered the former president for backing infrastructure legislation, which gave President Joe Biden a victory, and for backing a bipartisan investigation into the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol before Senate Republicans killed the idea.

Even still, Trump remains largely the only endorsement that matters in the Republican primaries, forcing candidates, especially those in contentious races, to continue running campaigns that please him.

Democrats with big decisions ahead and key Trump test coming

The early rounds of the 2022 primaries also served as a testing ground for Trump’s ability to bend the Republican Party to his will. That theme will continue into next week’s slate, particularly in Pennsylvania, where its endorsed Senate nominee, Dr. Mehmet Oz, is locked in what’s shaping up to be a three-way race, with David McCormick and Kathy Barnette, for the GOP nomination.

Trump is also looking to falter in North Carolina, where his GOP Senate lead candidate, Rep. Ted Budd, has led former Gov. Pat McCrory, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker and Marjorie Eastman in the polls.

But the May 17 primaries will also pose big questions for the Democratic Party, which will select its own nominee for the open Senate seat in Keystone State. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a progressive stalwart, is the frontrunner in this contest, with moderate Rep. Conor Lamb his closest contender, according to recent polls.

Pennsylvania, Oregon and North Carolina are also home to a handful of Democratic House primaries that pit progressives against moderates who, in a handful of races, have been boosted by remarkable amounts of outside spending.

Most contested primaries are for open seats, but in Oregon’s redesigned 5th congressional district, Rep. Kurt Schrader faces a tough challenge from Jamie McLeod-Skinner, whose local supporters have clashed with Democratic leaders in Washington.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misrepresented the congressional district where Rep. Alex Mooney defeated Rep. David McKinley in the Republican primary on Tuesday. It was the 2nd district of West Virginia.


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