Omaha, Neb. ( Associated Press) — The top race in Tuesday’s primary elections in Nebraska and West Virginia is an overwhelmingly electoral Republican primary for governor of Nebraska, with a Donald Trump-backed candidate who has been accused of groping several women.
Voters in Nebraska will also nominate candidates to replace former US Representative Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican convicted in March of lying to federal officials about an illegal campaign contribution received from a Nigerian billionaire.
In West Virginia, the two incumbent congressmen face off in the Republican primary, as redistribution cost the state one seat in the US House.
What to watch as Tuesday’s primaries unfold:
How strong is Trump in Nebraska?
In Nebraska’s Republican primary for governor, Trump has backed Charles Herbster, a wealthy agricultural businessman and rancher who has positioned himself as a political outsider.
Herbster has recently faced allegations that he groped young women, including a Nebraska state senator and a former legislative staffer. He vehemently denied the allegations and filed a defamation suit against the MP, State Sen. Julie Slama. She filed a countersuit accusing Herbster of sexual battery. Despite the allegations, Trump stood by Herbster and appeared with him at a rally last week.
His main rival is University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen, a former college football player and veterinarian who owns a hog farm operation and swine breeding-stock company. Pilane has received support from high-profile conservatives, including Governor Pete Ricketts, former Gov. Orr, the influential Nebraska Farm Bureau, and former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne.
And in a surprising twist, Omaha’s state Sen. Brett Lindstrom has risen to top-notch status with the support of the Republican mayor of Omaha and ads in which he has projected himself as a “new generation” of leader. They are considered a more liberal alternative to herbsters and pylons.
The winner of the GOP primary is expected to face State Sen. Carol Blood, who is certain to win the Democratic nomination for governor over a little-known candidate who hasn’t actively campaigned.
How did a congressman’s conviction change the primary?
US House primary races are typically low-key affairs in Nebraska, with little turnover between Republican incumbents. But the state has an open seat this year after Fortenberry’s resignation.
Fortenberry initially planned to be re-elected for a 10th term despite a federal indictment, and launched attack ads against his main rival, Republican State Sen. Mike Flood. He dropped his bid after his conviction, and Flood gained momentum with the support of Ricketts and former Gov.
Flood is now the strong favorite of the field of five Republican candidates to win the nomination for the first congressional district. Fortenberry’s name would still appear on the ballot because it withdrew after the state’s deadline to certify candidates.
The GOP nominee is expected to face Democratic State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks in November. Pansing Brooks is running against University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Jajri Kual Zakaria in the Democratic primary.
Flood and Pansing Brooks will also face each other in a June 28 special election to decide who serves for the rest of Fortenberry’s term. November’s general election will determine who fills the seat from January 2023.
The first congressional district included a portion of eastern Nebraska, except for Omaha and most of its suburbs. The Republican-leaning district includes large parts of Lincoln as well as farmland and smaller towns.
How much do infrastructure improvements matter to West Virginia voters?
A Republican primary between two incumbents in the Second Congressional District of West Virginia could hang on to support for President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law in the GOP-leaning state.
David McKinley, an incumbent, was one of 13 House Republicans who voted for the bill. He cited the state’s “D” infrastructure grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers, saying it would be a betrayal for residents to vote on the basis of “party politics” on an issue very important.
West Virginia, one of the country’s poorest states, is expected to receive $6 billion in infrastructure money.
The other incumbent, Rep. Alex Mooney, voted against the infrastructure bill and garnered Trump’s support the day Biden signed the measure into law. Mooney and Trump have called on McKinley and other Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill RINO, or “Republican in Name Only.” Mooney called the bill “Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s spending masterplan” and said it would contribute to inflation.
While in Congress, McKinley and Mooney voted together most of the time. But the infrastructure vote will serve as a test of Trump’s clout in a state that has embraced him wholeheartedly in two presidential elections.
Associated Press writer Leah Willingham in Charleston, South Carolina contributed to this report.