The Nebraska GOP is rejecting all Republican congressional incumbents in Tuesday’s primary election

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 primary election in his quest for reelection. He’ll have to do it without the support of the state Republican Party, which has endorsed his primary challenger.

Bacon, whose district includes the state’s largest city of Omaha, isn’t the only one being snubbed. The Nebraska GOP, which was taken over by those loyal to former President Donald Trump during a contentious state convention in 2022, has refused to endorse any of the Republican incumbents who hold all five of the state’s congressional seats.

The state party has endorsed primary 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 issue endorsements in the primary races 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 those races after the Nebraska GOP announced its endorsement decision in January.

It’s an oddity that lays bare the bitter divide between Trump loyalists who control the Nebraska GOP, as well as several county Republican parties, and the more establishment-type Republicans who were previously at the helm, said John Hibbing, a longtime University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor.

“It’s not a good look,” Hibbing said. “You’d like the faces of your party, who would be your elected representatives, and the state party leaders to be on the same page.”

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It’s even more perplexing when considering the voting records and campaign rhetoric of the incumbents, he said.

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

Nowhere is the state party’s rejection more likely to leave a mark than in Bacon’s race. The incumbent faces a challenge from Dan Frei, who bills himself as to the right of Bacon. Frei previously ran for the seat in 2014 and came close to besting then-Rep. Lee Terry in the Republican primary.

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 of awarding presidential electoral votes more than 30 years ago and instead allows its electoral votes tied to its three congressional districts to be split. Bacon’s district has seen its elector vote go to a Democratic presidential candidate twice — to Barack Obama in 2008 and to Biden in 2020.

After the state GOP endorsed Frei, Bacon defended his record as “a common-sense conservative who is able to reach across the aisle and find areas of consensus.”

Bacon has said that “it’s sad to see the division in the party,” Danielle Jensen, communications director of the Bacon campaign, said Monday. “I can tell you, he does not think this is going to negatively affect the campaign.”

The campaigns of Fischer, Flood, Ricketts and Smith did not answer questions by The Associated Press about the lack of state party endorsement.

The state party said in an email Monday it didn’t endorse any of the Republican incumbents because they didn’t ask. But Bacon said Monday that incumbents didn’t have to request the party for endorsements in years past.

“These folks were hostile to all of us, and they changed the rules,” Bacon said.

The challengers who got the party’s endorsement did ask, and a vote of the more than 160 elected governing body members of the party gave them that endorsement, said Todd Watson, political director of the state GOP.

Watson denied that the move was solely about Trump, but said most Nebraska Republicans 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 state Republican Party official, Kerry Winterer, excoriated the state party in an opinion piece published in the Nebraska Examiner last week, saying the party’s primary purpose is to elect Republicans but that it has instead become bound solely to Trump.

“A political party bound to one candidate cannot possibly fulfill its purpose of electing candidates that share a common political philosophy,” Winterer wrote.

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

“Objectives of the party are achieved in our mind when we elect constitutional and platform Republicans to office,” he said. “Electing Republicans that are not committed to the objective of the party … to defend the Constitution and advance our principles as stated in our written platform and plans have been a real problem for this party and country.”

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