More tests for Trump’s influence in the GOP

Former President Donald Trump’s picks swept the primaries last week in Ohio, but this week’s contests present another test of his influence – especially when the candidate is tainted by scandal.

So far, with the polls closed in both Nebraska and West Virginia, the two states holding primaries on Tuesday night, one Trump-approved candidate has prevailed.

In West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, Trump-backed Republican Alex Mooney beat fellow Republican David McKinley. The two congressmen were drawn into the same House seat after the state lost a congressional district after the 2020 Census.

McKinley, a six-term Republican congressman and seventh-generation West Virginian, had the backing of popular Governor Jim Justice and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. In an unusual development, one of the key issues was infrastructure spending — but in this case, the favored candidate was the one who voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Mooney, and McKinley, who voted for the package, lost. Trump, who won every county in the state in 2020, backed Mooney because of that “no” vote. 

McKinley said in a statement Tuesday night that he was “proud that I have always stood up for what’s right for West Virginia — even when it hurt me politically,” alluding to his infrastructure vote. 

Former President Trump Rallies Supporters In Nebraska
Campaign posters supporting Nebraska candidate for governor Charles Herbster decorate the grounds of the I-80 Speedway prior to the start of a rally with former President Donald Trump on May 01, 2022 in Greenwood, Nebraska. 

Scott Olson / Getty Images


“The groundwork we have laid over the last twelve years has paved the way for a more prosperous and diverse West Virginia economy,” McKinley said. 

David McIntosh, president for the Club for Growth PAC, an outside GOP group that backed Mooney, said in a statement that Mooney’s win “is a clear sign that Republicans want their Members of Congress to be real conservatives as opposed to moderate RINOS.”

The incumbent versus incumbent matchup between McKinley and Mooney is one of five this year. 

In the primary for the GOP nomination in the Nebraska governor’s race, Trump has endorsed longtime ally Charles Herbster, who has been accused of groping by multiple women, including two who have spoken of their experiences openly.  

Herbster has denied the allegations, and his campaign manager told The Nebraska Examiner, which first reported the allegations, that it was “a political hit-piece built on 100% false and baseless claims.”

At a rally last week in Nebraska, Trump called Herbster a “good man.” 

“He’s been badly maligned, and it’s a shame,” Trump said of Herbster. “I defend people when I know they’re good.”

Herbster is facing two opponents: state Senator Brett Lindstrom and businessman and University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen, who has the endorsement of the influential current Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, and longtime Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne.

Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen told CBS Omaha affiliate KMTV that he projects a 35% statewide turnout Tuesday, which would be the highest since 2006.

In Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District, the seat formerly occupied by  Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned in March after he was convicted of lying to federal authorities about an illegal campaign donation from a foreign national, state Sen. Mike Flood won. Flood, who had three challengers, had received endorsements from Ricketts and former Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. 

He faces Democrat state Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, who won the Democratic primary Tuesday night, in November. The two are also running in a separate race on June 28 to fill out the remainder of Fortenberry’s term. 

Scott MacFarlane and Sarah Ewall-Wice contributed to this report. 



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