Former US president Donald Trump was due to appear at a rally on Friday to endorse a political candidate accused of sexually assaulting eight women, including a state senator.
Charles Herbster, a multimillionaire cattle-breeding executive, has denied the allegations but faces a backlash from conservatives in Nebraska, where he is vying to be the next governor.
State senator Julie Slama told the Nebraska Examiner two weeks ago that Mr Herbster had sexually assaulted her during an event in 2019, while seven other women made misconduct accusations anonymously.
“I am not seeking media attention or any other gain. I simply was not going to lie and say it did not occur,” Ms Slama said, adding that she was 22 at the time.
Mr Herbster, whose fortune comes in part from selling bull semen, was described as a “special guest speaker” by organisers of Mr Trump's Save America rally at a racetrack near Omaha.
Aides told Mr Trump of the allegations earlier this month, according to Politico, but the Republican leader doubled down, pushing for Mr Herbster to fight back.
Mr Herbster has dismissed the scandal as a “smear campaign”, similar to attempts to target Mr Trump, who has been accused of sexual misconduct himself by more than two dozen women.
“Charles will continue to fight to expose politically-motivated lies, to clear his good name, and to focus on the issues that he will tackle as the next governor of Nebraska,” his spokeswoman Ellen Keast said.
Mr Trump has a long history of backing public figures accused of misconduct, including his former White House aide Rob Porter after he was fired over accusations of battering two of his ex-wives.
Others who have benefited from his support include former Fox News star Bill O'Reilly, accused of sexual harassment and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who faced historic sexual assault allegations during his confirmation.
The race for the Republican nomination in Nebraska on May 10 is a three-way toss-up between Mr Herbster, multimillionaire pig farmer Jim Pillen and state senator Brett Lindstrom.
Mr Trump's October endorsement of Mr Herbster, a prolific donor, rankled much of the Republican establishment in the state that Mr Trump won by 20 points in 2020.
An unwavering loyalist who attended Mr Trump's 2015 campaign launch and the rally ahead of the 2021 US Capitol assault, Mr Herbster is vying to replace Pete Ricketts, the scion of a powerful Republican dynasty that owns the Chicago Cubs.
The outgoing governor, who tried to dissuade Trump from anointing Mr Herbster, said on Monday the candidate should apologise to his accusers, quit the race and “seek help".
Frustration is mounting on the right over the endorsements, which often appear to have more to do with the candidates' fame than their conservative credentials.
Mr Trump's support of Hillbilly Elegy author JD Vance in Ohio and celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania underlines his willingness to defy the establishment, often putting him at odds with his own side.
And while Mr Trump's popularity with the hardliners that make up his core support appears undiminished, his endorsements may not be the panacea they once were.
Mr Vance's popularity has surged but Dr Oz still trails a former US Treasury official, and Georgia gubernatorial challenger David Perdue has gone from seven to 25 points behind since Mr Trump's endorsement in February.
“This is not a question of politics — it is an issue of character and basic human decency,” said Ms Slama's female colleagues in Nebraska in a joint statement.
“Charles Herbster's behaviour is completely unacceptable for anyone, especially someone seeking a public office of authority and trust.”