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Endorsements, polling and more Trump: Governor campaigns shift into overdrive

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With just a few days left to instill their images in the minds of voters ahead of the primary election, the top three Republican contenders for Nebraska governor have kicked their campaigns into overdrive, announcing a stream of endorsements, releasing new poll results, and even promoting a second appearance (virtual, this time) by former President Donald Trump.

Endorsements

The top three contenders for the Republican nomination all announced endorsements this week.

Conklin Co. CEO Charles W. Herbster announced the backing of former White House Director of Communications Mercedes Schlapp and State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion. In a statement, the senator said that Herbster, in supporting modernizing the state’s sales tax base, has demonstrated “the political will to stand up to the establishment, the special interests, and the lobbyists to do what it takes to lower property taxes.”

Two people who have gone on the record with the Nebraska Examiner as witnesses to Herbster allegedly groping women work for Briese, the senator confirmed with The World-Herald. And a former Briese staffer has also gone on the record accusing Herbster of groping her.

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In all, eight women have accused Herbster of groping them. Two, including Sen. Julie Slama, have come forward using their names.

“Although elected officials must be held to a high standard of conduct, allegations of past misdeeds are not disqualifying,” Briese wrote in a text message. “If being faultless was the litmus test for public service, we would have no public servants. These 11th hour allegations will be addressed in the legal system. They should not be used to torpedo the campaign of an otherwise qualified candidate.”

Sen. Brett Lindstrom announced the support of Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, Alliance Mayor Mike Dafney, Gibbon Mayor Deb VanMatre, longtime Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. John Stinner of Gering, and former U.S. Rep. Doug Bereuter.

“Rather than focusing on the political hot button issues, he stands out for his experience in actually addressing the real issues that are important in the governance and economic development of Nebraska to build our future,” Bereuter said in a statement.

Hog producer and University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen announced endorsements from Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine early in the week, and from Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday.

“I’m proud to work alongside my fellow Republican governors to advance our conservative values, preserve individual freedoms, and hold the federal government accountable,” Stitt said in a statement. “Jim Pillen will be a great governor of Nebraska, and he’ll be a valued colleague in the fight.”

A poll from Pillen

The Pillen campaign released a poll this week, conducted by WPA Intelligence April 30 through May 2, that showed Pillen with 31%, Herbster with 26%, Lindstrom with 16% and 19% of voters undecided. The pollster surveyed 500 Republican primary voters by phone. Its survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence interval, according to a polling memo.

Other recent polls, including one conducted by the same pollster for Pillen just a few days prior, have shown the race in a three-way dead heat. The poll commissioned by Pillen’s campaign for April 26-28 showed Pillen at 24%, Herbster at 23%, Lindstrom at 20%, and 24% of voters undecided. That survey included 505 Republican primary voters contacted via phone, and its margin of error was also plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Pillen campaign manager Kenny Zoeller said they wanted updated data following Trump’s appearance at a rally on Herbster’s behalf.

“We are optimistic that voters are breaking for Pillen as the most conservative candidate in the race,” Zoeller said.

Political science professors Elizabeth Theiss-Morse and Randall Adkins both looked at the polling memo and said these most recent results do hold good news for Pillen.

“Momentum is important when we look at polling numbers,” Theiss-Morse, who teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, wrote in an email.

Among takeaways, she noted that it appeared undecided voters were starting to decide. She wasn’t surprised Lindstrom’s numbers appeared to be slipping.

“Primary voters tend to be more ideologically extreme (on the right for Republicans and on the left for Democrats), so the recent attacks on Lindstrom for being too liberal likely resonate negatively among primary-voting Republicans,” Theiss-Morse wrote.

But she also cautioned that “any given poll can be an outlier.” In the polling memo, the pollster wrote that they used a “recently built turnout model” without explaining what it is. Theiss-Morse said that model would affect who was included and/or how they analyzed results. And, she said, people can refuse to take surveys and may not be honest.

“A lot of polls got things wrong in 2016 and 2020 because of these problems,” she wrote. “If Herbster supporters are like Trump supporters, they might be less willing to take these polls and to indicate their sincere vote choice.”

Adkins, who teaches at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, also offered a caveat: “A poll is like a snapshot.”

Rod Edwards, Herbster’s deputy campaign manager, said that “the top end of that poll does not line up with what we’re seeing.” Lindstrom campaign spokesperson Pat Trueman cast doubt on the numbers:

“After his own March and April polling showed him completely stagnant, Pillen expects us to believe he jumped seven points in two days? Clearly Gov. Ricketts doesn’t believe it,” he said, citing the governor’s donations and ties to political action committees that are behind Lindstrom attack ads.

Ricketts has given nearly $1.3 million to the PAC Conservative Nebraska, which Lindstrom’s campaign estimates has spent close to $1 million on anti-Lindstrom efforts.

Trump’s on the phone

Fresh off of an in-person visit from Trump last weekend, Herbster was joined by the former president Thursday evening for a phone call billed as a “tele-rally.” During the roughly 10-minute phone call, Trump reiterated his support for Herbster and noted that the Falls City businessman has been a loyal supporter of his.

Herbster’s campaign has been largely defined by his ties to and support from Trump.