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Trump-backed candidates vie for Republican nominations in West Virginia and Nebraska


By Maeve Reston, CNN

The next phase of the fight for dominance of the Republican Party will be decided Tuesday in a key House contest in West Virginia and the gubernatorial primary in Nebraska, where former President Donald Trump is backing a candidate facing allegations of sexual misconduct.

Trump’s influence is felt throughout May’s GOP primaries as candidates clamor for his support, especially after his pick won in the Ohio Senate race last week. The candidates he’s backed in Tuesday’s marquee contests have stood beside him throughout his baseless campaign to raise doubts about the 2020 presidential election.

West Virginia, a state Trump has twice won overwhelmingly, will test the significance of his support in the first incumbent versus incumbent matchup of the cycle. Rep. Alex Mooney, whom Trump has backed, is facing off against Rep. David McKinley for the new 2nd Congressional District after the Mountain State lost a district in the post-census reapportionment process.

Mooney won Trump’s endorsement in part because he objected to the Pennsylvania electoral count as Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.

Not only did McKinley vote to certify Biden’s win, he also backed the formation of an independent commission to investigate the January 6, 2021, insurrection — an effort that was ultimately spiked in the Senate but nonetheless earned Trump’s wrath. He also supported the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law, which Trump railed against.

As Mooney has attacked McKinley as “a liberal” who supported that bipartisan legislation, there has been no subtlety in his ads as he’s touted the former President’s endorsement as the centerpiece of his campaign.

One of them framed as a “MAGA Alert” accused McKinley of supporting “Pelosi’s anti-Trump, January 6th witch hunt.” And a radio ad running throughout the district in the closing days featured Trump calling Mooney “a warrior.”

McKinley has the backing of Republican Gov. Jim Justice, a former Democrat who switched his party registration to the GOP in 2017, and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who took the unusual step of cutting an ad for McKinley, praising him for opposing “reckless spending” that could harm the people of his state.

McKinley has attacked Mooney as a newcomer to the state who does not grasp the depth of its concerns, drawing attention to the fact that Mooney previously served as a state senator in Maryland. Manchin alluded to that carpetbagger attack the ad, stating that Mooney and his “out-of-state supporters” were spreading the “outright lie” that McKinley supported Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which Manchin had killed, citing concerns about the inflation and spending.

“Alex Mooney has proven he’s all about Alex Mooney. But West Virginians know David McKinley is all about us,” Manchin said in the ad.

Nebraska governor’s race

In Nebraska, Trump has endorsed Charles Herbster, a businessman, farmer and rancher who is in a tight three-way race against hog farmer and University of Nebraska Board of Regents member Jim Pillen and state Sen. Brett Lindstrom.

While Trump won the state with 58% of the vote to Biden’s 39% in 2020, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has endorsed Pillen as the candidate who should succeed him and has actively campaigned against Herbster, whom he has described as being unqualified for the job. Recent interviews in the state suggest that the popular governor’s backing could carry as much, if not more, weight for many of the state’s GOP voters than Trump’s endorsement.

Herbster has been contending with the fallout from a mid-April report in the Nebraska Examiner detailing the accounts of seven women who said they were groped by him at political events or beauty pageants, and an additional woman who accused him of kissing her forcibly. The Examiner said that all eight accounts were corroborated either by witnesses or people who spoke to the women about what happened immediately afterward.

Herbster dismissed the allegations in an interview with CNN as a “politically timed smear” and said they were “100% false.” Adopting the aggressive tactics that Trump championed during his own controversies, Herbster sued his first named accuser, Republican state Sen. Julie Slama, who said Herbster sexually assaulted her by reaching up her skirt and touching her without consent at a 2019 GOP dinner. In the lawsuit, he alleged that her statements have done “grievous harm to his reputation” and she filed a countersuit.

As part of his defense, Herbster claimed that his opponents were using the same playbook that they used against Trump in the 2016 campaign and then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Both men were accused of sexual assault — allegations they denied.

Trump defended Herbster at a rally in Nebraska earlier this month, claiming that he was a “fine man” who “had been badly maligned.”

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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