Farm Bureau takes side in GOP primary, backs Pillen for governor

By: - February 1, 2022 11:07 am

Farm Bureau President Mark McHargue announces the group’s endorsement Tuesday of University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen at the Capitol. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — The last time the Nebraska Farm Bureau endorsed a candidate in a competitive Republican primary for governor, in 2006, the group helped Gov. Dave Heineman beat U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne.

On Tuesday, the Farm Bureau again chose sides, endorsing University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen in the GOP primary. They cited Pillen’s work to grow his family’s Columbus-area hog farm.

“We really made a difference in that race,” Farm Bureau President Mark McHargue said of Heineman-Osborne 2006. “And we think we can do it again in this one.”

Pillen described the endorsement as a big deal to his campaign and to him. He said his first agricultural priority as governor would be to help build the belief that Nebraska agriculture can compete globally.

“This is one of those days you say ‘Holy cow!’” said Pillen, pointing to his work with Pillen Family Farms. “This support is overwhelming.”

McHargue, asked why the Farm Bureau weighed in when the race has more than one candidate with agricultural ties, said the Farm Bureau didn’t take the decision lightly. 

Leaders reached out to members in all 93 counties about whether they wanted to get involved in the race, and he said most said yes. Surveyed members “overwhelmingly” picked Pillen, said Sherry Vinton, first vice president of the Farm Bureau. 

“Jim was the guy,” McHargue said. 

The Farm Bureau said it would work hard for Pillen, volunteering for his campaign, getting the word out to members across the state and chipping in financially from its political action committee. McHargue did not disclose the amount of financial support.

Pillen is jostling for the primary’s top spot with agribusiness and roofing business owner Charles Herbster. Herbster, who runs a cattle-breeding business near Falls City, had no immediate comment on the Farm Bureau’s endorsement.

Pillen, a former Nebraska defensive back, has also been endorsed by his former coach, Osborne, and Gov. Pete Ricketts. 

Local political experts with experience in campaigns say endorsements rarely matter. The most common exception to the rule: credible endorsements during competitive primaries, said Paul Landow, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  

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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.