Donald Trump’s effort to demonstrate his domination of the Republican Party via prolific endorsements in 2022 GOP midterms races got off to a good start on May 3 with J.D. Vance’s win in a highly competitive Senate nomination contest in Ohio. But a week later, he won one and lost one in deep-red states where the Republican nomination was tantamount to an ultimate victory.
The one statewide primary on May 10 was in Nebraska, where Trump endorsee Charles Herbster, a wealthy agribusiness executive who was a key adviser to the 45th president before and during his presidency, lost to University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen in a multi-candidate contest. What likely cost Herbster the nomination was a lurid scandal wherein eight women, including one state legislator, accused him of groping them. Trump not only stood by his man, he advised Herbster to fire back aggressively. Herbster complied, claiming the witnesses to his alleged misconduct were tools of outgoing Governor Pete Ricketts on behalf of his endorsed candidate, Pillen.
The back-and-forth attacks between Herbster and Pillen created a bit of an opening for a third candidate, Omaha-based state legislator Brett Lindstrom. But in the end, Pillen, a conventional conservative, showed strength all over the state, while Lindstrom and Herbster had trouble drawing votes beyond their respective urban and rural redoubts. Democrats nominated a credible candidate, state legislator Carol Blood. But unless Trump and Herbster throw fits and refuse to back the GOP nominee, the deeply Republican character of Nebraska and the pro-Republican midterm dynamics should put Pillen in the governorship.
While Team Trump lost in Nebraska, it won on May 10 in West Virginia, in a rare incumbent-versus-incumbent congressional primary (caused by the state’s loss of a House seat during the decennial reapportionment). Trump-endorsed congressman Alex Mooney handily defeated his Republican colleague David McKinley to survive redistricting. McKinley had an advantage in the percentage of the new district he had previously represented, and also appealed to the traditional West Virginia taste for congressional pork by boasting of his involvement in crafting the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill. Like Trump, Mooney attacked the infrastructure bill as insufficiently partisan, and ran better in McKinley’s former district than McKinley ran in Mooney’s home turf. There will be a Democratic candidate, former local elected official Barry Wendell, in November, but he is given slim odds of winning.
Next the 2022 GOP primary circus now moves on to senatorial and gubernatorial contests in Pennsylvania and a Senate race in North Carolina. Again we will learn if Trump’s support is a game-changer within his party, and perhaps a deal-breaker in the general election.
More on the Midterms
- The Data-Driven Strategy Behind Democrats’ State-Level Success in 2022
- No, Ron DeSantis Isn’t the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan
- Why 2022’s Big Lesson for Democrats Might Be … Nothing