- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Former President Donald Trump remains one of the most powerful factors in this year’s slate of Republican primaries, but the latest elections showed the limits of his influence headed into key contests in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Mr. Trump’s pick for Nebraska governor lost in the primary this week, but the Republican he endorsed in West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District coasted to victory.

The mixed results ended a streak of victories among 55 Republicans who Mr. Trump publicly backed, and in some cases rescued from the brink of looming defeat.

In West Virginia, Rep. Alex Mooney easily defeated Rep. David McKinley on Tuesday for a spot on the November ballot. Both men are incumbents, but a shrunken congressional map eliminated a congressional seat and forced them to fight over the 2nd District.

“The Mooney playbook was very Trump-sounding with rhetoric tied to the 2020 vote, January 6 riots and attacking McKinley for supporting bipartisan infrastructure legislation,” said Scott Widmeyer, co-founder of the Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communications. “On the flip side, McKinley’s attempt to criticize Mooney as an out-of-stater didn’t seem to work. Nor did endorsements and TV spots from Gov. [Jim] Justice and Sen. [Joe] Manchin.”

But Mr. Trump’s endorsement was not enough to bolster agribusiness executive Charles Herbster, who lost to Jim Pillen, a member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, in the state’s GOP governor’s race. 

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Mr. Pillen won with 34% of the vote, compared to about 29% for Mr. Herbster. State Sen. Brett Lindstrom placed third with 26.7%.

Mr. Herbster’s campaign was hobbled by accusations of sexual harassment by eight women. He denied the claims.

Mr. Pillen had the backing of incumbent Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is term-limited, as well as other prominent figures in the state. 

Mr. Trump, who won West Virginia and Nebraska in 2016 and 2020, appeared unfazed by the loss in Nebraska. In addition to Mr. Mooney, Trump-backed incumbent Reps. Adrian Smith of Nebraska and Carol Miller of West Virginia, won their GOP primaries. 

“58-1. Charles W. Herbster came VERY close despite tremendous headwinds!” Mr. Trump posted on the Truth Social, the media site he founded after getting kicked off Twitter.

This week’s results may foreshadow the limitations of Mr. Trump’s endorsements in the weeks ahead, even in states where he remains very popular with Republican voters. 

Mr. Trump’s April 10 endorsement in Pennsylvania’s GOP race for Senate provided a burst of support for celebrity physician Mehmet Oz. A little more than a month later, however, Mr. Oz is barely leading GOP opponents Kathy Barnette and Dave McCormick, while a significant group of voters remain undecided ahead of a May 17 primary.

In Georgia, it appears increasingly unlikely Mr. Trump’s endorsed candidate in the governor’s race, former Sen. David Perdue, will be able to defeat incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp in the May 24 primary.

Mr. Perdue has consistently trailed by double digits, despite a Feb. 1 endorsement from Mr. Trump. 

Mr. Trump’s endorsement of Rep. Jody Hice for secretary of state in Georgia hasn’t made her a shoo-in to defeat incumbent Brad Raffensperger. A late-April poll showed the two candidates in a close race.

There’s better news for Mr. Trump in North Carolina, where his endorsed candidate for Senate, Rep. Ted Budd, is leading a pack of GOP challengers by double digits ahead of a May 17th primary. 

The vast majority of voters in both Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania view Mr. Trump favorably, according to polls.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Carol Miller and her home state, as well as the home state of Adrian Smith.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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