Key moderate Republican Don Bacon fends off state GOP-backed populist primary challenger

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Moderate U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., defeated his toughest primary challenge yet on Tuesday night with 70.2% of the vote, besting a right-wing populist who was supported by both the Nebraska state GOP and even Bacon’s own colleague in Congress. 

The election was a test case to see how much the GOP’s wave of populism has affected even Republican voters in areas that could be swing districts in six months.

Bacon’s general election race will likely be among the most closely watched House elections in November as Democrats seek to wrestle Republicans’ razor-thin House majority out from under them.

The outspoken three-term lawmaker, whose district is anchored in Omaha, represents an area that President Biden won by more than 6% in 2020. 

His opponent was businessman David Frei, who was backed by the state GOP as well as the Republican Party organizations of three Nebraska counties.

Frei was also notably endorsed by House Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good, R-Va. Good has backed several challengers to more moderate Republican counterparts currently serving in Congress.

Bacon’s campaign was backed by more than 100 Nebraska officials on the federal, state and local levels, including both of the state’s GOP senators and Gov. Jim Pillen. He also had support from House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

He’s now advancing to face Nebraska state Sen. Tony Vargas, the Democrat whom he defeated by less than 3% in 2022.

A retired Air Force brigadier general, Bacon has been more willing than many of his colleagues to cross the aisle and work with Democrats, particularly on foreign aid. He’s also followed the lead of a significant number of Republican officials in endorsing Trump for re-election this year.

Bacon has also spoken out against GOP rebels in his conference who have purposely hamstrung their own party’s agenda in protest of House leadership decisions.

It’s earned him both bipartisan praise as well as scorn from lawmakers and activists on his right flank. 

He was ranked the eight-most bipartisan House lawmaker in a new index released this week by the Lugar Center & Georgetown University’s McCourt School, including the fifth-most bipartisan House Republican.

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