© Reuters. A view shows the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., April 27, 2022. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
By Andy Sullivan and Jason Lange
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A West Virginia candidate for U.S. Congress backed by former President Donald Trump was leading in early primary returns on Tuesday, as voters in that state and Nebraska picked candidates for federal and state races.
The contests are part of a series of primaries that will set the stage for Nov. 8 elections in which Republicans are favored to win control of at least one chamber of Congress, which would give them the power to bring Democratic President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda to a halt.
In West Virginia, Alex Mooney, Trump’s preferred candidate, led David McKinley by 52.9% to 37.1% with 58% of the expected vote counted, according to Edison Research. The unusual race pits two incumbent Republicans against each other in a mountain state that has lost a congressional seat due to its shrinking population.
Voting closed in Nebraska at 8:00 p.m. Central time (0100 GMT).
Trump has endorsed more than 150 candidates this year as he lays the groundwork for a possible presidential bid in 2024, among them “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance, who secured the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Ohio last week.
Trump has also endorsed candidates in high-profile Senate primaries in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia, set to take place later this month.
The congressional race in West Virginia pits Mooney, who has backed the former president’s false accusations of fraud in the 2020 election, over McKinley, who is backed by Governor Jim Justice.
McKinley has campaigned on his support for Biden’s infrastructure package, which will send billions of dollars in new spending for roads, bridges and other projects to the low-income state. Mooney, like most House Republicans, voted against the package.
In Nebraska, Trump has endorsed business executive Charles Herbster in the governor’s race. Several women have accused Herbster of sexual harassment, a charge he denies. Herbster has filed a defamation lawsuit against one of the accusers, state Senator Julie Slama. Slama has filed a countersuit alleging battery.
Trump, who also faces multiple accusations of harassment and sexual assault, said at a May 1 rally that he believed Herbster is innocent.
Herbster faces Jim Pillen, a hog farmer and university board member who has drawn the backing of the current governor and many other political figures in the Midwestern farm state.
At that rally, Trump also urged his supporters to “vote like hell” against Republican Representative Don Bacon, who has criticized Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump said he backed challenger Steve Kuehl.
The winner of that primary contest will face a competitive November election in the Omaha-based district against the Democratic nominee, either Tony Vargas or Alisha Shelton.
Also in Nebraska, Republican voters in the eastern part of the state will pick a nominee to succeed former Representative Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned in March after being convicted of lying to federal investigators about illegal campaign contributions.
State senator Mike Flood is favored to win that contest, which would put him in line for victory in November in the solidly Republican district. Flood has already won the Republican endorsement for a June 28 special election to fill Fortenberry’s vacant seat through January 2023.
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