Nebraska’s costliest governor’s race left wild numbers in its wake
OMAHA — The costliest election in Nebraska history is over, including a governor’s race with state-record spending in 2022 of $29 million, campaign finance reports show.
Even including the general election that University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen won over State Sen. Carol Blood, nobody spent more than the second-place finisher in the GOP primary.
Trump-endorsed agribusinessman Charles Herbster self-financed more than 99% of his primary campaign, including in-kind donations from his businesses. He raised and spent more than $13 million.
That’s the most ever raised or spent on any Nebraska governor’s race. The next-highest tally was Pillen’s, who raised $11.5 million in the GOP primary and the general elections combined, including $1.5 million of his own money. He spent $11.1 million.
Pillen benefitted from his top political patron, then-Gov. Pete Ricketts, who in 2022 continued to dominate Nebraska politics with his donations targeting several races.
Ricketts gave Pillen’s campaign $100,000. Additionally, Ricketts and his family spent more than $3 million on third-party TV ads attacking Pillen’s top two opponents, Herbster and State Sen. Brett Lindstrom.
The attack ads changed a three-way race. Lindstrom’s donations decreased dramatically during the second round of ads against him. Support for Herbster fell in tracking polls.
Lindstrom raised nearly $3 million — a more typical gubernatorial haul for a GOP primary frontrunner – and spent most of it. Blood raised $636,000 and spent nearly all of that.
Even the race’s lesser-known candidates raised significant sums: Third-party candidate Dave Wright raised and spent $149,000, and write-in candidate Robert Borer raised and spent $52,000.
The only other candidate in past Nebraska elections to spend as much as Herbster or Pillen was Ricketts in 2006, when he lost a bid challenging U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson. Ricketts spent $13.4 million, of which he donated $12 million to his campaign.
Nelson spent $7.3 million on the race. Ricketts achieved his Senate ambitions in January, after Pillen appointed him to replace Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who resigned to lead the University of Florida.
Nebraska Examiner staff writer Zach Wendling contributed to this report.