Jim Pillen, a University of Nebraska regent backed by the powerful Ricketts state political machine, won Nebraska’s Republican gubernatorial primary, defeating a scandal-tainted millionaire backed by former President Donald J. Trump.
The Associated Press declared Pillen the winner over his main rivals, Charles W. Herbster, a Trump-backed agribusiness executive who financed his own campaign and, in the final weeks of the race, was accused of groping women, and Brett Lindstrom, a state senator who appealed to the moderate wing of the party.
Mr. Pillen’s victory makes him a heavy favorite to become Nebraska’s next governor in November. Democrats haven’t won a statewide election since 2006. The party nominated Carol Blood, a state senator from suburban Omaha.
Herbster is the first Trump-backed candidate to lose a Republican primary in 2022. Many more Trump-backed candidates face strong headwinds in upcoming primaries, beginning with gubernatorial races in Idaho next week and in Georgia on May 24. .
Pillen, 66, campaigned on the belief that Nebraska Republicans were pleased with the administration of Gov. Pete Ricketts, their biggest political benefactor and most prominent supporter, who is resigning due to term limits. Mr. Ricketts spent millions on television advertising supporting Mr. Pillen as he attacked Mr. Herbster and Mr. Lindstrom.
Once Mr. Herbster began to gain traction in the race, the mild-mannered Mr. Pillen adopted some of his rival’s right-wing positions on social issues. He sought to ban the teaching of critical race theory in the University of Nebraska system and spoke out against allowing transgender athletes to compete in high school girls’ sports in the state.
Mr. Pillen, a former defensive back for the University of Nebraska football team, became a successful veterinarian and pig farmer in the state. In addition to the endorsement of Mr. Ricketts, he had the endorsement of a handful of the state’s most prominent figures, including Tom Osborne, his college football coach, who was also a three-term member of Congress from western Nebraska, and the comedian Larry the Cable. Guy, who grew up on a farm in the southeastern corner of the state.
Much to the frustration of his opponents, Pillen skipped all televised debates during the primary campaign, opting instead to hold hundreds of small meetings with voters across the state. Mr. Pillen’s opponents argued that he lacked charisma and that he was not prepared to discuss the problems of the state; Pillen said he was building coalitions away from the prying eyes of the media.
Lindstrom sought to rebuild the kind of Republican coalitions that existed before Trump’s rise. He appealed to educated professionals in the urban centers of the state of Omaha and Lincoln and put political distance between himself and Trump, saying the 2020 election was legitimate and that he would prefer “a new face” to lead the GOP in 2024.
Although Lindstrom made a late charge in the polls, most of the race turned into a power struggle between Ricketts and Trump, with whom Herbster attached his political identity. She spoke like Trump, taking many of Trump’s political positions and vowing to drain “the swamp” in Lincoln, the state capital.
In other Nebraska races, Mike Flood, a state senator from Norfolk who owns television and radio stations across the state, won the Republican nomination for the Lincoln-based congressional seat vacated by former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned after he was found guilty of lying to the FBI in a campaign finance investigation.
Mr. Flood defeated Mr. Fortenberry, who remained on the ballot but did not mount a campaign, and Curtis Huffman, an accountant.
Democrats in Omaha nominated state senator Tony Vargas to face Rep. Don Bacon, a moderate Republican seeking a fourth term. The son of immigrants from Peru, Mr. Vargas was a public school teacher in Omaha and served on the city’s school board before being elected to the Nebraska Legislature.
The campaign arm of the House Democrats is optimistic that Vargas can be competitive in November, despite the difficult national environment for the party.
Bacon is one of 10 House Republicans to hold a district led by President Biden in 2020. But in the last two elections, Omaha Democrats nominated Kara Eastman, a Democratic socialist who did not appeal to centrist voters. from District. Vargas has not campaigned on the leftist issues promoted by Eastman.