Nebraska Republicans rally for ‘unity’ as party shows cracks heading into fall
Nebraska Republican Party chairman Dan Welch speaks during a “unity rally” Wednesday in Lincoln. To the right are 1st District Mike Flood, Gov. Pete Ricketts and GOP gubernatorial nominee Jim Pillen. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Nebraska’s Republicans upheld their tradition Wednesday of hosting a “unity rally” the day after GOP candidates compete in contested primary elections.

Charles Herbster, the second-place finisher Tuesday in the gubernatorial race, attended, as did Theresa Thibodeau, Herbster’s former running mate, who finished fourth in the governor’s primary.

They and several others who lost primary elections Tuesday attended the rally to show that they back the winning candidates, including University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen, the GOP nominee for governor.

State Sen. Brett Lindstrom, who finished third in the governor’s primary race, didn’t attend the rally, although he endorsed Pillen during his concession speech Tuesday night.

“I think that what’s important today is that we think about tomorrow,” Pillen said Wednesday. “I will work to earn the rest of Republicans’ votes, eyeball to eyeball, across this state.”

Divisions within the state’s dominant political party remain, however, and must be repaired, Herbster said during his concession speech Tuesday night. He did not speak during the rally Wednesday.

GOP incumbents faced stiffer-than-usual protest votes on Tuesday, including many from voters who lodged complaints online about the state’s “political establishment.”

Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen, who is running for re-election, received 94,566 votes Tuesday, winning over two primary challengers. But those challengers, Robert Borer and Rex Schroder, drew a combined 122,239 votes.

State Treasurer John Murante, seeking re-election, saw perennial candidate Paul Anderson pick up 43% of the GOP primary vote.

Even Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, running for state auditor, watched a nominal opponent, Larry Anderson, get 27% of the vote Tuesday.

“It’s unity in name only,” Nebraska Democratic Party chairwoman Jane Kleeb said Wednesday by phone. “The Republicans are fractured and divided.”

Tuesday’s protest vote was less pronounced in the three U.S. House races. Second District Rep. Don Bacon earned 77% of the primary vote against upstart Steve Kuehl, even after former President Donald Trump targeted the congressman during a rally for Herbster.

State Sen. Mike Flood, who won the GOP nomination in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District, rallied Republicans around a goal of firing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“This morning we are standing together united as one Republican team,” Flood said. “We are all on the same team. … We are working to make sure conservative GOP values are represented in Washington.”

Flood criticized his general election opponent, Democratic State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, as a supporter of abortion on demand and said that anti-abortion Nebraskans will make their voices heard.

Flood and Pansing Brooks will face off in a June 28 special election to replace former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry for the remainder of 2022. Fortenberry resigned in March after being convicted of three felonies. Flood and Pansing Brooks will also be on the November ballot to determine who represents the district in the next term.

“The stakes in this race are as high as they have ever been for women’s reproductive health,” Pansing Brooks said in a statement. “My GOP opponent co-sponsored legislation this year that would force raped children and incest victims to go to term. I will lead in Congress to combat the Supreme Court’s rollback to the dark ages and protect all women’s bodily autonomy.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Pillen supporter, help to fund millions of dollars worth of negative outside ads against Herbster and Lindstrom, turning off some GOP voters. On Wednesday, Ricketts tried to re-focus Republicans on defeating Democrats.

Primaries, the governor said at the unity rally, strengthen “our conservative cause” and make candidates better.

“We have to remember that our primary goal is to beat the Democrats in November,” he said.

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