Trump-Backed Candidate in Nebraska Beaten by Dark Money, Popular Gov Jim Pillen, Republican candidate for Nebraska Governor, speaks during the Nebraska Republican Party general election kickoff Wednesday. (Gwyneth Roberts/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)
By John Gizzi | Wednesday, 11 May 2022 04:58 PM
The punditocracy is making a major story out of the defeat of Donald Trump's candidate in the three-way Republican primary for governor of Nebraska yesterday.
With about 90 percent of the vote counted in the primary, University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen has beaten Trump-backed businessman Charles Herbster by 33% to 30%. Placing third with 26% was State Sen. Brett Lindstrom, considered more moderate than conservatives Pillen and Herbster.
But there is more to the outcome than simply a candidate not backed by Trump defeating one who had the blessing of the former president.
In what was by far the most expensive race ever waged in the Cornhusker State, the popular Gov. Pete Ricketts deployed his vast wealth to help put his favored candidate, Pillen, over the top.
"I estimate an approximate aggregate of $25-35 million directly reportable was spent in the primary," former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub, a Herbster supporter, told Newsmax, "and Ricketts and his allies spent multiple millions waging the sliming negative character attacks on both Herbster and Lindstrom — probably if tallied with dark money, at least $10 million dollars."
He added that "the dark money targeting of female urban voters in the three days before the primary turned the tide."
Two weeks before the balloting, Herbster was hit with charges from seven women alleging the candidate had groped them.
Among them was state Sen. Julie Slama, one of the most-watched of up-and-coming Republicans. Slama told reporters that Herbster had not only touched her inappropriately at a Douglas County Lincoln Day dinner in 2019, but that she witnessed another young woman experience a similar touching by Herbster at the same event.
Six other women at the dinner told reporters they also were touched inappropriately by the candidate.
Ellen Keast, Herbster's campaign manager, characterized the accusations as "100% false."
"Trump's support was not quite enough to overcome Herbster's flaws," said former State GOP Chairman David Kramer, who agreed that Ricketts' heavy spending on negative ads against Pillen's opponents were pivotal to his narrow triumph.
The evidence, according to Kramer, is that "Lindstrom, in particular, and Herbster, to a lesser extent, appeared to do significantly better with early voters. Those who voted on Election Day appeared to swing to Pillen."
In addition, an estimated 8,000 Democrats switched their voter registration to Republican and both Kramer and Daub agreed this helped candidates other than Herbster.
Daub said Trump's appearance in the state on behalf of Herbster a week before the voting "helped Charles a lot, but he relied on it too much. The dark money targeting of female urban voters in the three days before the primary turned the tide."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.