The Nebraska Republican Party rejected all incumbent Republican members of Congress in Tuesday’s primary elections

By MARGERY A. BECK – Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — In one of the most closely watched congressional races this year, U.S. Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska is looking to defeat a fellow Republican in Tuesday’s primaries in his quest for reelection. He will have to do it without the support of the Republican Party, which has backed his main challenger.

Bacon, whose district includes the state’s largest city Omaha, isn’t the only one rejected. The Republican Party of Nebraska, which was taken over by those loyal to former President Donald Trump during a controversial 2022 state convention, has declined to endorse any of the Republican incumbents that hold all five of the state’s congressional seats.

The state party has endorsed key challengers to U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts and Rep. Adrian Smith, who represents the state’s vast rural 3rd Congressional District. And it has declined to endorse in the primaries of U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer and Rep. Mike Flood, who represents the 1st Congressional District that includes the state capital of Lincoln. Both Fischer and Flood face primary challengers who entered these races after the Nebraska GOP announced its endorsement decision in January.

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It’s an oddity that exposes the bitter divide between Trump loyalists who control the Republican Party in Nebraska, as well as several Republican parties in the county, and the more established Republicans previously at the helm, said John Hibbing, a longtime associate of the University of Nebraska. Professor of Political Science at Lincoln.

“It doesn’t look good,” Hibbing said. “You want the faces of your party, who your elected representatives are, and the leaders of the state parties to be on the same page.”

It’s even more confusing when you consider the voting results and campaign rhetoric of incumbents, he said.

“I think they’re probably wondering, ‘What else can we do?’” Hibbing said. “These are absolutely conservative individuals.”

Nowhere is rejection by the state party more likely to leave a mark than in Bacon’s race. The incumbent president is facing a challenge from Dan Frei, who bills himself as to the right of Bacon. Frei already ran for the seat in 2014 and was almost the best of the then representative. Lee Terry in the Republican primaries.

Bacon is one of 16 Republican members of Congress representing districts that Democrat Joe Biden carried in 2020.

Nebraska eschewed a winner-take-all system more than three decades ago that awards presidential elections, instead allowing the electoral votes tied to its three congressional districts to be split. Bacon’s district has seen its voter vote go to a Democratic presidential candidate twice: to Barack Obama in 2008 and to Biden in 2020.

After the Republican Party endorsed Frei, Bacon defended his record as “a common-sense conservative capable of reaching across the aisle and finding areas of consensus.”

Bacon has said that “it is sad to see the division within the party,” Danielle Jensen, communications director for the Bacon campaign, said Monday. “I can tell you he doesn’t think this will negatively impact the campaign.”

The Fischer, Flood, Ricketts and Smith campaigns did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The state party said in an email Monday that it was not endorsing any Republican incumbents because they did not ask for it. The challengers who received the party’s support asked for it, and a vote from the more than 160 elected members of the party’s governing body gave them that support, said Todd Watson, state GOP political director.

Watson denied the move was solely about Trump, but said most Republicans in Nebraska are fed up with what they see as attacks on Trump, the state party’s new direction and “our way of life.”

“What we believe in is the Constitution, conservative principles and God,” he said.

A former Republican Party official, Kerry Winterer, lambasted the state party in an op-ed published last week in the Nebraska Examiner, saying the party’s main goal is to elect Republicans, but instead it focuses solely on Trump is bound.

“A political party tied to one candidate cannot possibly achieve its goal of electing candidates who share a common political philosophy,” Winterer wrote.

Watson countered that “the old leadership” of the state GOP is wrong.

“The goals of the party are achieved in our minds when we elect constitutional and platform Republicans,” he said. “Electing Republicans who are not committed to the party’s purpose … to defend the Constitution and advance our principles, as stated in our written platform and plans, has been a real problem for this party and this country.”

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