UPDATE (May 10, 2022, 11:49 p.m. ET): Jim Pillen defeated Charles Herbster in Tuesday's Republican gubernatorial primary election in Nebraska.
Tuesday’s GOP primary for governor in Nebraska will be the latest test of whether the party is a safe haven for candidates beleaguered by sexual abuse allegations.
Front-runners in the nine-way Republican race include Jim Pillen, a member of the University of Nebraska's board of regents, and Charles Herbster, a businessman and cattle breeder endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Oh, and like Trump, he stands accused of sexual assault.
Last month, The Nebraska Examiner published allegations from eight women who said Herbster groped them or touched them inappropriately in public, including at political events and beauty pageants. One of the accusers is Republican state Sen. Julie Slama, who said Herbster reached up her skirt during an event in 2019. Another woman alleged Herbster forcibly kissed her.
Herbster hasn’t just denied the allegations “unequivocally” — he’s painted himself as a victim and drawn connections between himself, Trump and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to suggest there’s been a conspiracy to take down Republicans.
In a recent interview with CNN, Herbster dismissed the allegations as a “politically timed smear" and said "they" did it to Trump and Kavanaugh, too.
It's unclear who the “they” are, given that the allegations against Herbster have come from fellow conservatives. Nonetheless, he’s placed himself in some questionable company.
Trump, as the unearthed “Access Hollywood” video showed, has boasted about groping women without their consent. And Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett “The Boofman” Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school. (Both Trump and Kavanaugh have repeatedly denied any allegations of sexual misconduct.)
Herbster's victory in the Nebraska primary would solidify beliefs that candidates and nominees accused of sexual abuse are becoming — if they aren’t already — a protected class in the GOP.
Recent polling out of Nebraska has shown Herbster and Pillen in a statistical tie for the GOP nomination. And unsurprisingly, the allegations of sexual misconduct haven’t turned Trump off of him.
In fact, Trump had his back at a rally this month.
“I defend people when I know they’re good,” Trump said. “A lot of people, they look at you and say, 'You don’t have to do it, sir.' I defend my friends.”