Herbster and Pillen share the lead but have weak spots with voters, poll indicates

Nebraska poll indicates three-way GOP race between Herbster, Pillen, Lindstrom

By: - March 1, 2022 5:15 pm
gop candidates

Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidates, from left, Charles Herbster, Brett Lindstrom and Jim Pillen, at a candidate forum in Lincoln. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

The two best-funded candidates in Nebraska’s Republican primary race for governor each has a vulnerability that polling shows could cost them significant voter support.

The Nebraska Examiner obtained a Feb. 8-11 poll of more than 900 likely GOP primary voters, conducted for Neilan Strategy Group of Lincoln. It tested likely attacks against candidates Charles Herbster and Jim Pillen. The survey was done via calls to landlines and  texts to cell phones. It had a margin of error of 2.9%, plus or minus, with a confidence level of 95%. 

Likely voters in Nebraska’s May 10 primary election were asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who had paid his property taxes late more than 400 times. 

The question targets Herbster, who paid his property taxes late a total of nearly 600 times over 25 years in Nebraska and five other states, based on a KMTV investigation by this reporter. Most of the late payments were in Richardson County, Nebraska.

Herbster said at the time he made a “conscious choice” to pay his taxes late to offset cash flow problems after his family purchased Conklin in the 1990s.

Results indicated half of those surveyed were turned off by a candidate paying his property taxes late so many times, with 29% saying they were much less likely to back him and 21% saying they were somewhat less likely.

Those surveyed were asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate accused of hiring undocumented workers at his family business and falsifying records to conceal it.

The question targets Pillen, whose Pillen Family Farms was sued last year by a former employee alleging that the company hired workers without verifying their immigration status and that documents were changed to make the truth harder to track.

A Pillen campaign spokesman told the Lincoln Journal Star at the time that the allegations were “baseless and false.” (Editor’s note: the lawsuit was dismissed March 3, the day after this story was published. The suit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled.)

The results indicated more than a third of those surveyed were turned off by the immigration allegations, with 29% much less likely to vote for such a candidate and 5% somewhat less likely.

Herbster, who is CEO of Conklin Co., and Pillen, a University of Nebraska regent, are in a three-way GOP race with State Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha, several recent polls indicated.

Herbster, Pillen and Lindstrom each received support from more than 20% of those surveyed. No one else polled in double digits.

Various polls have shown the top three candidates within 5-10 points of each other. 

“The beauty of a deep bench is a highly competitive primary,” said Perre Neilan, owner of the strategy group that arranged to have the poll done. “Anyone who tells you they know who will win this primary will lie to you about other things.”

The Feb. 8-11 poll did not test a negative message against Lindstrom because the pollster did not yet consider him a factor. 

GOP strategists have said Lindstrom is susceptible to attacks for opposing the death penalty. Lindstrom told the Omaha World-Herald that vote reflected his political principles.

Neilan declined to discuss specifics about the poll. He said only that the survey was not done on behalf of a candidate or campaign.


  • The poll indicated that former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Herbster carried more weight with GOP voters than Gov. Pete Ricketts’ endorsement of Pillen, but only by 8 percentage points statewide, 34%-26%. 
  • The Trump endorsement had the biggest impact in Nebraska’s sprawling, largely rural 3rd Congressional District, the poll indicated.
  • GOP voters still oppose medical marijuana, 49%-39%. And they oppose raising the minimum wage to $15 from $9 by a 50%-30% margin.

Nebraska Examiner senior reporter Paul Hammel contributed to this report.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also spent several years as an assignment editor and worked two stints as an editorial writer. From 2005 to 2007, he served as communications director for then-Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Aaron most recently was the lead investigative reporter for KMTV 3 in Omaha, focusing on holding public officials accountable. His work has received awards from the Associated Press, Great Plains Journalism and more.