FREMONT, Neb. (KMTV) — The 2022 Republican race to replace Pete Ricketts as Nebraska’s governor has been joined by another candidate.
Charles Herbster, who runs agricultural businesses in several states, including Nebraska, formally kicked off his campaign Monday at a rural, barn-like wedding venue outside Fremont.
Herbster’s decision to run has been an open secret for months, as he amassed a staff, opened a campaign office in Omaha and let surrogates tell key GOP activists that he was in the race.
On Monday, he laid out themes for his campaign, including addressing property and income taxes, reestablishing conservative leadership in the Unicameral, and fighting federal overreach.
“We’ve been talking about taxes for a long time in Nebraska,” he told 3 News Now after his announcement. “But here’s what I really believe. I believe we’re at a point where people in the past maybe weren’t willing to look at everything and restructure the entire thing.”
Herbster also worked to carve his lane in a GOP primary that includes NU Board of Regents member Jim Pillen, a former Nebraska football player endorsed by ex-football coach and Rep. Tom Osborne. Other GOP candidates considering runs include State Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha and former Gov. Dave Heineman.
Herbster highlighted his political proximity to former President Donald Trump — as a top agricultural adviser to the president’s 2020 campaign — saying he’d bring “America First” policies to Nebraska.
Herbster was also a VIP at the Washington, D.C. rally the then-president participated in on Jan. 6, before many in the crowd made their way to the Capitol, and some stormed it.
Herbster’s pollster, frequent Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway, introduced him as a friend. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is one of his campaign’s top advisers.
“I know a little bit about successful businessmen and political outsiders,” Conway said. “You need him to have this job so you can keep your jobs.”
At one point, Herbster told a crowd of more than 100 people that he would rather be loyal to Trump than win by being disloyal to him. Many, including Omaha resident Mark Christian, cheered.
Christian described Herbster’s unapologetic support for Trump as “an asset” in the GOP primary in a Republican-dominated state where the GOP primary often decides statewide races.
“We are really missing real conservatives who are going to espouse real conservative issues so we can lift up our country and get out of all the chaos that’s going across in other states,” he said.
Herbster also announced his running mate on Monday, former Douglas County Republican Party chairwoman Theresa Thibodeau. He praised her for her Christian faith, which he said he shares.
One undecided Republican voter in the crowd, Fanchon Blythe, said she was with Herbster at the White House-area rally before the Jan. 6 protests. She said she wants someone with “we the people.”
She also said she will support whichever candidate has the most realistic plan to address property taxes, and she wants to know more about what they’ve done in politics and life.
Said Blythe: “I’m going to want to know somebody’s record, whether they’re a regent (Pillen) or whether they sell bull sperm (Herbster).”
Ricketts, reached after a news conference for the Department of Roads in nearby Fremont, took a shot at Herbster’s business record when asked his thoughts on the new competitor.
“I have worked on growing the state by getting companies to move here,” Ricketts said. “I think Charles Herbster is going to have a hard time convincing the people of Nebraska he should be governor when he moved the main company headquarters for his organization, and he put that in Missouri.”
The Nebraska Democratic Party’s Jane Kleeb and Spencer Danner said in a statement that the state’s voters want someone who cares more about Nebraskans than former President Trump.
They called him too extreme for Nebraska, with Kleeb saying Nebraska does not need another “right-wing millionaire in the governor’s mansion” who is out of touch with working people.
We asked Herbster what he thought about the 2020 presidential election results after he appeared during the rally to acknowledge President Joe Biden's win. He said he didn't know who won.
"There’s no way we can really know that, because none of the states would look at those irregularities," Herbster said. "I can only say this. As an individual who’s watched elections all of my life, it’s very difficult personally for me to believe that Joe Biden got over 80 million votes."
Biden beat Trump in the popular vote, collecting a record 81 million votes, per the final counts. Trump won 74 million votes. He also won the Electoral College contest 306-232.