Union leader Dan Osborn kicks off nonpartisan U.S. Senate bid in Omaha

Gathering signatures to challenge Republican Deb Fischer in 2024

By: - October 5, 2023 8:38 pm

Dan Osborn, an Omaha industrial mechanic, announces his nonpartisan bid for U.S. Senate in Nebraska on Thursday. He is challenging U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

OMAHA — A union leader running a U.S. Senate race without the statewide help or hindrance of a political party label kicked off his 2024 campaign Thursday by discussing the kitchen-table issues he said mattered to the local workers he helped secure better pay and benefits. 

People wait to hear from Nebraska nonpartisan U.S. Senate candidate Dan Osborn in Omaha. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Dan Osborn, an industrial mechanic who led the labor strike at Kellogg’s Omaha plant in 2021, is running as a nonpartisan upstart against two-term U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., a former state senator from Valentine and Lincoln known for her work on national security and infrastructure. 

On Thursday, Osborn, 48, said Fischer, 72, and partisan national politicians have paid too little attention to the economic realities facing working families in Nebraska. He highlighted higher costs for food, fuel and health care and said people’s pay hasn’t kept pace with inflation.

 “Our bank accounts feel it as inflation and greed jeopardize our todays and our children’s tomorrows,” Osborn said. “The lifetime politicians in Washington can’t do the basics like change the oil, basic preventive maintenance. They can’t even balance the budget like each of us do.”

Why Fischer over Ricketts?

In a follow-up interview after his announcement, Osborn said he chose to run against Fischer over Sen. Pete Ricketts, R-Neb., partly because hers is a six-year term. Ricketts is running in 2024 to fill out the remainder of former Sen. Ben Sasse’s term after he resigned. The winner of the Ricketts race will have to run again in 2026 for a full six-year term. 

Running another Senate race so soon would be difficult, he said.

Nebraska nonpartisan U.S. Senate candidate Dan Osborn, center, speaks with longtime reporter Tom Becka (right) about his campaign at his Omaha announcement. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Osborn said he chose to run as “an independent” or nonpartisan because voters he talks to from both parties are more open to a message from a candidate who doesn’t play for the team they dislike. He said he can “see the wall drop” when he tells people he’s not for either side.

He acknowledged that he also faces a steep climb in fundraising and organizing without a state and county party apparatus behind him. He said he knows he will have to work 40 hours as a steamfitter and get on the phone and on the road with voters.

Getting on the ballot

His first challenge will be getting on the ballot. His campaign asked the more than 75 people who attended his early evening kickoff in central Omaha to sign the petition to get him on the general election ballot in 2024. His team must collect 4,000 signatures by Sept. 1, 2024.

He said people in both parties are looking for something different because both parties are beholden to “the monopolistic corporations and the invisible things that actually run this country.” He said he won’t take donations from corporate PACs.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., announces her reelection bid for U.S. Senate in the Nebraska State Capitol on Wednesday, June 28, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

In his kickoff speech, Osborn said he wants to cut middle-class taxes, cut wasteful spending, close tax loopholes for multinational corporations and help farmers, ranchers and military service members. He later clarified that he wants people and their needs prioritized.

“That check engine light has been on for far too long,” he said.

Fundraising challenge with no party

Osborn said he’s already raised more than $60,000, but that he will need much more to compete with Fischer, whose campaign raised $612,000 in the spring and listed $2.1 million in cash on hand before she gained an opponent. 

“My intent is to go up against the large corporations, just like I did on strike at Kellogg’s,” Osborn said. “I’m not afraid of them. And they need to pay their fair share in corporate taxes.”

Fischer’s campaign had no comment Thursday about Osborn’s kickoff or candidacy. She has argued that she and other Republicans in the Senate are fighting against the Biden administration and its spending choices coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dee Osborn, the candidate’s mother, addresses a crowd of more than 75 people in Omaha at her son’s announcement of his bid. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

She and many of the state’s all-GOP congressional delegation have argued that runaway federal spending drives inflation. The bulk of that increased discretionary spending came under the Trump administration and then the Biden administration, as pandemic relief.

Democrats might back him

Nebraska Democratic Party chairwoman Jane Kleeb said Thursday that her party leadership is still considering supporting Osborn’s bid. She said Democrats and Osborn are discussing the next steps. Democrats, she said, are seeking feedback from their voters.

“We know the only way to break up one-party rule in our state is for Independents, Libertarians, frustrated Republicans and Democrats to work together,” she said. “We respect Dan and know his work ethic from when he stood with Kellogg workers.”

‘A fighter’ who likes to joke

Osborn’s mom, Dee, told the crowd more about her son before he spoke, describing him as a hard worker who isn’t from “a political dynasty” or wealthy. She said he was a jokester who liked to do impressions from “It’s a Wonderful Life” and a “fighter” for working people.

Retired local union representative John Dredla speaks about Dan Osborn’s work to secure better wages during the Kellogg’s strike. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

“Dan is a person who does not back down, who takes on tough stuff,” she said.

Dan Osborn’s campaign showed the crowd a video highlighting his Navy and Nebraska National Guard service. It also discussed his work helping Kellogg’s train the next generation of mechanics and workers to keep plants operating safely.

Retired local union spokesman John Dredla credited Osborn for helping Omaha-area Kellogg’s workers negotiate a deal that preserved jobs and got people back to work. He said he was tired of hearing about Republicans and Democrats.

“I’m ready to hear we’re doggone American,” he said.


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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 worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.