Trump makes closing speech for Nebraska candidate accused of fumbling

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NEBRASKA CITY, Neb. – Former President Donald Trump delivers closing remarks for a Republican gubernatorial candidate who has been accused of sexually assaulting multiple women, deepening a primary that has divided Republicans in the staunchly conservative state.

Trump appeared at a Sunday afternoon rally in Greenwood with Charles Herbster, a businessman who advised the former president on farm policy and donated to his campaigns. The visit comes after a recent Nebraska Examiner report in which eight women, including a state senator speaking publicly, accused Herbster of inappropriately touching them. Last week, another of the eight women publicly alleged that Herbster groped her. He denied the charges.

According to State Senator Julie Slama (R), Herbster lifted her skirt without her consent and touched her inappropriately as she walked past at a local Republican fundraiser in a crowded ballroom in 2019. Elizabeth Todsen, a former aide to a state senator, said Herbster grabbed her butt after stopping to wave at her table at the same event. Several women told the Nebraska Examiner that Herbster touched them inappropriately when they greeted him or posed for a photo.

Trump, who has faced and denied multiple allegations ranging from sexual harassment to rape, has backed other candidates who have been accused of sexual misconduct or domestic violence and denied the allegations.

They include Herschel Walker, a US Senate candidate in Georgia who was accused of threatening the lives of two women, as well as Sean Parnell, who ended his US Senate campaign in Pennsylvania last year amid domestic violence allegations, and Roy Moore, a 2017 U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama who was accused by two women of initiating unwanted sex when Moore was in his thirties and 16 and 14 years old.

On stage before Trump spoke on Sunday, Herbster briefly addressed the allegations, saying the “political establishment” didn’t want him to win. “They’re trying to scare me away from this race and it’s not going to happen,” Herbster said. “We’re going to take Nebraska back.”

He compared his vision to “make Nebraska great again” to Trump’s approach to the presidency, rolling up his sleeves to fight illegal immigration and defend religious freedom. “It’s my show,” added Herbster. Trump called Herbster “a very good man.”

Trump’s presence in the Nebraska race pitted him against incumbent Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), who said Herbster would be a ‘terrible governor’ and backs a rival candidate, University of Nebraska regent Jim Pillen .

The sexual assault allegations against Herbster became a controversial topic in the primary. Herbster suggested Ricketts was behind them, which the Governor denied. Taking a defiant stance similar to Trump, Herbster argued that the two were falsely accused for political reasons.

“It’s a playbook of the past,” Herbster told former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon on his “War Room” podcast. “Look what they did to Clarence Thomas. Look what they did to Donald J. Trump. Look what they did to Brett M. Kavanaugh. Now it’s Charles W. Herbster.

Herbster tapped former top Trump White House official Kellyanne Conway to help with his campaign last year, alongside former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. In December, he parted ways with Lewandowski, when the adviser was accused of sexual harassment.

Trump was scheduled to gather with Herbster on Friday, but the outdoor event was delayed due to high winds and rain. Sunday’s rally included two conservative activists who falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump: MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell and Republican activist David Bossie, the producer of the new documentary titled “Rigged.”

Trump endorsed Herbster last year, stoking tensions among local Republicans, starting with Ricketts, who had urged the former president not to get behind the nominee. In January, the governor endorsed Pillen. “I respect President Trump’s many accomplishments,” Ricketts said. “But on this issue, we are going to disagree.”

The allegations against Herbster have thrown more uncertainty into what pollsters see as a three-way race between him, Pillen, and State Sen. Brett Lindstrom (R), with State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau (R) no far behind. While Trump won Nebraska by 19 points in 2020 and remained hugely popular with Republicans in the state, some primary voters said they weren’t convinced they would support Herbster.

The Herbster campaign, which did not respond to a request for comment, has had other issues. Last July, his first running mate, Thibodeau, resigned, saying the candidate was “chaotic and disorganized” and not ready for the post of head of state.

“I never saw that there was a real desire to learn Nebraska or learn Nebraska politics,” Thibodeau, who later entered the governor’s primary, said in an interview. “Those leadership characteristics just aren’t there.”

Herbster, who has spent $5 million of his own fortune on his campaign, was seen as having a close race when Slama accused him of groping her in 2019. Herbster sued for defamation, claiming the “false accusations and attacks on my character” had been “part of a larger plan” to defeat him.

“We will show this lawsuit for what it is: a frivolous and bad faith attempt to intimidate a sexual assault victim into silence,” a lawyer for Slama said in a statement provided to The Washington Post.

During a parade here in Nebraska City on Saturday, celebrating the 150th annual Arbor Day, Herbster ran back and forth down the road, shaking hands and telling a family not to ‘believe all the bullshit’ that they heard.

Some voters grabbed signs for the Herbster campaign, with the words “Trump approved” below his name. Many were skeptical of the allegations Herbster faces.

“He’s best suited for the job,” 36-year-old Terry Coen said. “I don’t really think it matters. I don’t think there’s a body to it. His wife Summer, 43, said: ‘People are going to say what they’re going to say no matter who it is. ‘is.”

Republican opponents did not ask Herbster to leave the race, but they criticized his response to the allegations. In a brief interview, Pillen dismissed his rival’s suggestion that he is merely the latest in a line of conservatives to face bogus charges. “Since I’m a veterinarian and a pig farmer,” Pillen said, “I would call that hogwash.”

Lindstrom, said he did not believe in a “rush to judgment”, but added that he knew and trusted the two identified accusers, Slama and Todsen. “When I look at people who have come out, I tend to take their word for it,” Lindstrom said after speaking to supporters on Saturday. “Personally, having daughters and being in politics, it’s kind of disheartening to hear that someone running for governor would or could have engaged in that kind of activity.”

The rival candidates are not the only ones to question his defense or his explanations. When the allegations were first reported, the 13 women in the Nebraska Senate signed a letter calling the allegations “disqualifying” and “completely unacceptable”.

“Sexual assault is despicable and harmful,” they wrote, including State Sen. Carol Blood (D), who is running unopposed for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. “It’s not a matter of politics. It’s a matter of character and basic human decency.

Herbster released a TV ad denying the charges and noting that Slama once worked for Ricketts. During a press conference this week, Herbster explained that he had “taken the route of the lawyers to protect my name and reputation.”

I respect all women, all women in this country,” Herbster said. “The number of calls, texts and prayers that have reached me has been absolutely overwhelming.”

On Tuesday, four Republican state senators, all women, launched a Herbster victims’ witness legal defense fund. In a joint statement, they accused Herbster of attempting “to use the justice system as a weapon to silence his victims” and avoid accountability, adding that “sexual assault survivors and witnesses should be free to come forward and speak the truth”. Two said they had received letters from Herbster’s legal representatives.

Arlene Osantowski, 81, had traveled nearly two hours to attend Trump’s rally on Friday. When it was postponed, she and her sister-in-law went to a nearby Thibodeau rally, both saying they planned to support her. Herbster had business interests out of state, there were questions about his taxes, and they were uneasy replacing the wealthy Ricketts with another multi-millionaire governor, they said.


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