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Trump’s Candidate Lost In Nebraska — But Trump Is Still Winning Most Of His Primaries

Former President Donald Trump’s perfect 2022 endorsement record is no more. After all 36 Senate, House or governor candidates he endorsed in Texas, Indiana and Ohio won their primaries, Trump-supported businessman Charles Herbster lost his bid for Nebraska governor last night.

The winner of the Republican primary was instead University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen, who took 33 percent of the vote. Herbster finished second, with 30 percent, followed closely by moderate state Sen. Brett Lindstrom with 26 percent.

The race had been seen as a proxy war between Trump and the establishment and moderate wings of the GOP. And thanks to Pillen’s win, the next governor of Nebraska will likely1 be someone with deep ties to the state’s political and economic establishment who has accepted President Biden’s election, rather than someone who believes that China orchestrated the coronavirus pandemic and spent Jan. 6, 2021, in the Trump war room. Along with incumbent Secretary of State Bob Evnen’s win, it now seems that the 2024 presidential election in Nebraska is set to be certified by two men who respect the democratic process.

But at the same time, this loss isn’t evidence that Trump’s influence with the Republican base is slipping. Herbster was far from a perfect candidate — most notably, eight women accused him of unwanted sexual advances, including groping and forcible kissing. Retiring Gov. Pete Ricketts also attacked Herbster for allegedly moving his agricultural company out of state and supporting higher taxes, and he threw his full weight behind Pillen (a lesson, perhaps, to other GOP elites that they have influence too, when they choose to wield it). Ultimately, Trump’s endorsement wasn’t powerful enough to drag Herbster to victory, but his endorsement remains an asset in any Republican primary. Just ask Rep. Alex Mooney, who decisively won his primary last night in West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. 

The elimination of one of West Virginia’s House seats after the 2020 census threw Mooney into the same district as fellow Republican Rep. David McKinley, and Mooney represented only 34 percent of the new district, to McKinley’s 66 percent. But with Trump’s endorsement, Mooney romped to a victory, 54 percent to 36 percent. As a result, there will now be one fewer pro-democracy Republican in the House (McKinley voted to certify the 2020 election and investigate the Jan. 6 attack) and one fewer consensus-builder as well (McKinley was rated as one of the most bipartisan House members and helped pass Biden’s infrastructure bill).

All told, Trump’s endorsed candidates for Senate, House and governor have now won 39 out of their 40 Republican primaries so far in 2022.2 That statistic, of course, far overstates his impact: 33 of those 40 endorsements were incumbents facing only token opposition. But that means that, even in relatively uncertain primaries, his picks have still gone 6-for-7. That includes impressive wins by Mooney, who was fighting the geography of his district, as well as author J.D. Vance, who had been languishing at around 10 percent in the polls before Trump’s endorsement helped him surge in Ohio’s GOP Senate primary last week.

There are still months of primaries yet to be held, so we’ll have to wait and see what Trump’s final track record is before drawing any firm conclusions. But right now, Trump has an impressive 86 percent win rate in incumbent-less primaries. It’s a testament to his continued popularity within the party — although he clearly isn’t invincible.

Footnotes

  1. Assuming he beats Democratic state Sen. Carol Blood in the fall, which he is heavily favored to do.

  2. In addition to Herbster and Mooney, Trump also endorsed West Virginia Rep. Carol Miller and Nebraska Rep. Adrian Smith, who cruised to renomination on Tuesday.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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