Jim Pillen, a regent of the University of Nebraska backed by the powerful Ricketts state political machine, has won the Republican primary for governor of Nebraska by defeating a scandal-ridden millionaire backed by former President Donald J. Trump.
The Associated Press declared Mr. Pillen the winner over his main rivals, Charles W. Herbster, a Trump-backed agribusiness executive who funded his own campaign and was accused of groping women in the closing weeks of the race, and Brett Lindstrom , a state senator who appealed to the moderate wing of the party.
Mr. Pillen’s win makes him an overwhelming favorite to become Nebraska’s next governor in November. Democrats have not won a national election since 2006. The party nominated Carol Blood, a senator from the suburbs of Omaha.
Herbster is the first Trump-approved candidate to lose a Republican primary in 2022. Many more Trump-approved candidates will face stiff headwinds in the upcoming primaries, starting with Idaho governor elections next week and Georgia on May 24.
In his Lincoln victory speeches, Mr. Pillen pledged to lead a government focused on education and agriculture, two pillars of the state. He said he would promote Nebraska to both attract new residents and prevent young people from moving to other states.
“We all agree, we all agree, we never, ever give up children,” he said. “We’re going to invest the farm in our kids, so all of our kids know the grass is the greenest in Nebraska.”
Mr. Pillen, 66, ran a campaign based on the idea that Nebraska Republicans were satisfied with the government of Governor Pete Ricketts, his chief political benefactor and most prominent supporter, who is stepping down due to term restrictions. mr. Ricketts spent millions on television advertising for Mr. Pills as he sees Mr. Herbster and Mr. Lindstrom attacked.
Once Mr Herbster started to gain traction in the race, the mild-mannered Mr Pillen took some of his rival’s right-wing stances on social issues. He tried to ban the teaching of critical race theory in the University of Nebraska system and opposed allowing transgender athletes to participate in high school girl sports in the state.
Mr. Pillen, a former defender of the University of Nebraska football team, became a very successful veterinarian and pig farmer in the state. In addition to the backing of Mr. Ricketts, he had the backing of a handful of the state’s most prominent figures, including Tom Osborne, his college football coach, who was also a three-year congressman from western Nebraska, and comedian Larry the Cable Guy, who grew up on a farm in the southeastern corner of the state.
To the frustration of his opponents, Mr. Pills up all the televised debates during the primaries, opting instead for hundreds of small gatherings with voters across the country. Mr Pillen’s opponents argued that he lacked charisma and was unwilling to discuss state issues; Mr Pillen said he was building coalitions away from the prying eyes of the news media.
Mr. Lindstrom sought to rebuild the type of Republican coalitions that existed before Mr. Trump’s rise. He enlisted trained professionals in the urban centers of the state of Omaha and Lincoln and put political distance between him and Mr Trump — saying the 2020 election was legitimate and that he would prefer “a new face” to lead the Republican Party in 2024.
While Mr Lindstrom made a belated charge in the polls, most of the race turned into a proxy fight between Mr Ricketts and Mr Trump, to whom Mr Herbster linked his political identity. He spoke like Mr Trump, adopted many of Mr Trump’s policy positions and pledged to drain “the swamp” in Lincoln, the state capital.
In other Nebraska races, Mike Flood, a Norfolk senator who owns radio and television stations across the state, won the Republican nomination for the Lincoln-based congressional seat vacated by former Representative Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned after being convicted. for lying to the FBI in a campaign finance investigation.
Mr. Flood defeated Mr. Fortenberry, who remained on the ballot but did not campaign, and Curtis Huffman, an accountant.
Democrats in Omaha nominated Tony Vargas, a state senator, to run against Representative Don Bacon, a moderate Republican seeking his fourth term. mr. The son of immigrants from Peru, Vargas is a former public school teacher in Omaha who served on the city’s school board before being elected to the Nebraska legislature.
The House Democrats campaign arm is optimistic that Mr Vargas can be competitive in November, despite the difficult national environment for the party.
Mr Bacon is one of 10 House Republicans who will have a district owned by President Biden by 2020. But in the last two elections, Omaha Democrats nominated Kara Eastman, a Democratic socialist who did not appeal to centrist voters in the district. Mr. Vargas has not campaigned for the left-wing issues that Ms. Eastman promoted.