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Republicans preach message of unity in aftermath of Nebraska primary elections

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LINCOLN — In the wake of a contentious primary race for governor, state GOP leaders urged Republicans to unite behind the winning candidate in that contest and others ahead of upcoming elections.

“The fight against liberalism starts again today,” said Nebraska GOP Chairman Dan Welch.

Nebraska Republicans gathered in Lincoln Wednesday morning to hear words from some of Tuesday’s big winners, including gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen and congressional candidate Mike Flood. Pillen said now that the primary is over, it is time for Republicans to ensure there is a “red wave” across the state in November’s general election.

“Let’s go get it in the fall,” he said.

Pillen was the victor in what was largely a three-man race in the Republican gubernatorial primary, which his opponent Charles W. Herbster described as one of the “nastiest” elections in state history. The final months of the campaign were filled with attack ads. In April, the race was rocked by a report from the Nebraska Examiner about allegations from eight women who said Herbster had groped them at events in recent years. He has vehemently denied the allegations.

Herbster came in second according to the unofficial election results, and officially conceded the race late Tuesday night. State Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha, who ended the race in third place, also conceded Tuesday and officially endorsed Pillen in his concession speech.

Herbster has not publicly endorsed Pillen yet, but he was present at Wednesday morning’s event, while Lindstrom was absent. Herbster did not speak at the event, and left shortly after the speeches were over.

In a statement Wednesday, the Herbster campaign said he would not be endorsing any gubernatorial candidate until he resolves a defamation lawsuit that he filed against State Sen. Julie Slama, who said Herbster groped her at a Republican event in 2019.

“Charles is going to continue pursuing all legal avenues until his name is cleared,” spokesperson Emily Novotny said in a statement. “The lawsuit was never about the governor’s race, but about returning honor to Mr. Herbster’s reputation.”

The division between Pillen and Herbster played prominently during the campaign, and became especially apparent in October when former President Donald Trump announced his endorsement of Herbster. That led Gov. Pete Ricketts, who backed Pillen, to state that Herbster was unqualified for the office.

As the election results revealed Pillen’s growing lead Tuesday night, prominent Republicans, including those supporting Herbster’s campaign, began shifting their message to advocate for conservatives to come together in future elections. Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, who endorsed Herbster, said moving forward it is “imperative” for Republicans to set aside their differences and focus on their shared values.

“Jim Pillen will make a great governor, and I will do anything I can to help his campaign,” Briese said in an email Wednesday.

Despite the contentious race, both Pillen and Welch said the message of unity would not have changed had the results been different.

Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood, who finished first in his race for reelection to the Nebraska Legislature Tuesday, said it might have taken a bit longer for Republicans to unite if Herbster or Lindstrom had won the primary, but he is sure they would have united eventually. Clements did not endorse any gubernatorial candidates in the primary.

Ricketts previously said he typically supports Republican candidates in general elections, but he wouldn’t have supported Herbster had he won the primary unless he “resolved” the sexual misconduct allegations against him.

Ricketts did not mention Herbster in his remarks Wednesday morning. Instead, he offered more general comments about the importance of primary elections.

“It makes you a better candidate,” Ricketts said. “Iron sharpens iron.”

Pillen will face Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, the winner of the Democratic primary, in the general election.

In accepting the party’s nomination Tuesday night, Blood challenged Pillen to focus on “real issues” facing Nebraskans, which she said her campaign has done since it started.

“We’ve stood strong in intent to craft a better Nebraska for all no matter who they are, where they live, what they look like or where they come from,” she said in a statement.

During the primary, Pillen prominently touted his stance on hot-button issues, including critical race theory and abortion. He said Wednesday that he plans to campaign on solving Nebraska’s workforce issues by finding ways to retain graduates, and reducing taxes and overall government spending.

Before the general election, Nebraska will hold a special election June 28 to fill the vacancy in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District formerly held by Republican Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned earlier this year after he was convicted of three felonies.

Flood, a state senator from Norfolk, won the Republican primary for the seat, and will face off against fellow lawmaker Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, who won the Democratic primary.

While Pillen largely held off on criticizing Blood, Flood went on the attack against Pansing Brooks in his remarks Wednesday morning. Flood said he and Pansing Brooks stand on opposing sides of multiple issues, including abortion, gun rights and tax relief.

In a statement released Tuesday, Pansing Brooks agreed that she holds opposing views to Flood on many issues. However, her campaign manager, Chris Triebsch, said she supports the Second Amendment.

“From infrastructure, including rural broadband, to child care, to housing, to education and workforce development, I bring a different perspective and a different record than my GOP opponent,” Pansing Brooks said in a statement Tuesday night.

Flood said June 28 is a “pivotal date,” and urged Nebraskans to vote. Twitter @ErinBamer


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