5 things to watch in the West Virginia, Nebraska primaries
Nebraska and West Virginia are holding May’s second round of primaries Tuesday and will offer yet more tea leaves for this November and the state of both parties.
Nebraska is hosting a competitive GOP gubernatorial race, and two West Virginia House incumbents are squaring off in a Republican primary after redistricting lumped them together. In Nebraska, businessman Charles Herbster, state Sen. Brett Lindstrom and University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen are all running for the governorship, and Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney are running for West Virginia’s newly drawn 2nd Congressional District.
Former President Trump has endorsed both Herbster and Mooney.
Here’s what to watch for as voters head to the polls.
Does Trump have another good night?
Trump scored a win last week when J.D. Vance, his endorsed candidate in the Ohio GOP Senate primary, won his race after weeks stuck in the field’s middle tier.
However, Vance had been considered the favorite heading into Election Day after post-endorsement polls showed him with a lead. In Nebraska and West Virginia, things are less clear.
Polls in Nebraska show Herbster, Pillen and Lindstrom all bunched up, and while recent surveys have shown Mooney with a lead, polling overall has been scarce.
Should Trump continue racking up wins Tuesday, it will help solidify his status as a GOP kingmaker and provide more cushion in case some of his candidates stumble in later primaries. But if he suffers losses in Nebraska and West Virginia, it will form an early dent in his power and provide less margin for error down the road.
Governors’ influence gets tested
Both Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) have endorsed candidates running against Trump-backed contenders — also setting Tuesday up to be a test of governors’ sway in the midterm elections.
Ricketts has come out behind Pillen, and Justice is backing McKinley. Sen. Joe Manchin, a former West Virginia governor and one of the few Democrats who remains popular in Trump country, is also backing McKinley.
Ricketts has long had a personal feud with Herbster, lobbied Trump to stay out of the race and put significant muscle behind getting Pillen over the finish line. Meanwhile, Justice and McKinley have been spotted together in West Virginia since the governor’s February endorsement.
Those top executives often have more impact on the day-to-day lives of residents of their states than Trump. But in a GOP dominated by the former president, it’s unclear if their support matters as much as that of the party’s de facto leader.
Do sexual misconduct allegations sink Herbster?
In a late primary twist, Herbster was accused of sexual misconduct by several women, including two who came forward publicly to say he groped them at a political event in 2019.
Herbster has denied the claims and purchased a broadcast ad trying to tie his accusers to Pillen and Ricketts, saying the allegations are “built on lies.”
Herbster has naturally come under attack over the allegations, with Pillen last month calling them “incredibly alarming” — and any one thing has the potential to swing a three-way race as tight as the gubernatorial primary.
Yet this isn’t the first time a political candidate has been accused of misconduct only to continue on with their political campaigns. Most notably, Trump himself was accused of harassment, abuse and rape, only to win the White House in 2016. Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) is running for the Senate and is still polling at or near the top of the primary field despite being accused of domestic and sexual abuse.
Should the allegations hurt Herbster, it would indicate that such claims could still impact races and that Trump is perhaps uniquely immune to the political ramifications. But should Herbster win, it could indicate that voters are increasingly taking such misconduct allegations with a grain of salt.
Is infrastructure a boon or a bust in West Virginia?
McKinley has campaigned heavily on his vote in support of last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, though it’s unclear if that vote will help or hurt him.
West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country and has a “D” infrastructure grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The state is expected to get $6 billion in infrastructure money.
That vote earned McKinley plaudits from people like Justice, who hope that money will improve the state’s roads, bridges and more. But it’s also earned him enmity from the GOP’s right flank.
In Trump’s endorsement for Mooney, he noted that McKinley voted for the legislation, dubbing it a “fake infrastructure bill that wasted hundreds of billions of dollars on the Green New Deal.”
Mooney has also called the bill “Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s spending master plan.”
McKinley is not the only person running on the infrastructure plan — Democrats across the country are expected to make it a key part of their pitch in November. And if McKinley falls flat, it could not only doom another House centrist but also spell trouble for Democrats’ already significant messaging struggles this year.
Does the Supreme Court draft impact turnout?
Last week’s leaked Supreme Court draft decision — which would overturn Roe v. Wade, repealing the constitutional right to an abortion and leaving the decision to codify the right to states — caused a political earthquake throughout the country last week.
Questions, but not many answers, immediately arose over the impact the ruling — if reflective of the final decision — would have on the midterms. Tuesday offers a first glimpse now that the public has had time to digest the news.
Some observers have speculated that the news could motivate Democrats who may not have been enthusiastic about voting to go to the polls to try to elect more pro-abortion rights lawmakers. Others say Republicans might be enthused after seeing a long-held goal nearly realized.
Tuesday’s turnout could give hints as to who is right and what could happen in November.
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