Previous supporters call Herbster unfit to be Nebraska’s governor
Thibodeau said she couldn’t wait any longer because she wants Nebraska Republicans to know what they’d be getting: a “non-existent, figurehead governor.”
LINCOLN, Neb. (NEBRASKA EXAMINER) – A former running mate, a former political mentor, and more than a dozen former campaign staffers who helped get Charles Herbster’s Nebraska governor’s race off the ground no longer stand by his side.
Herbster, the CEO of Conklin Co., still holds the endorsement of President Donald Trump, which might be enough to get him across the finish line in a Republican state.
Several previous supporters, including former running mate Theresa Thibodeau, who is now running against Herbster for the Republican nomination, pointed to Herbster’s lack of interest in learning about state issues and his obsession with national politics.
For example, Herbster recently publicly proposed that Nebraska should consider adopting a college savings plan; despite The State of Nebraska’s college savings plan since the mid-1990s.
“He has no clue how Nebraska works,” said Thibodeau. “The reason I stayed on longer than I should have is because I thought, ‘Holy cow!’ … Somebody’s going to have to figure out how to not have our state going to shambles.”
Former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who served on the Conklin board and mentored Herbster politically before parting ways for “personal reasons,” acknowledged hearing similar concerns.
Heineman has stayed neutral to date in this year’s GOP primary race for governor. However, he understands how it looks that he mulled a run of his own for the seat, after working with Herbster from 2015 to 2021.
“Part of the reason I think people were asking me to consider it was they didn’t know the candidates, and they were concerned that the top two didn’t have the state government experience to be an effective governor,” Heineman said.
Herbster’s campaign said those criticisms, and others, reflect that he’s an outsider running a campaign that Nebraska’s political establishment doesn’t like.
“Charles is not a career politician, and he is not running an establishment campaign like many had wanted,” the statement said. “Most who demanded a more traditional establishment campaign are no longer on the team, and we have moved on.”
“We must be doing something right with voters, because Charles is the frontrunner to be the next Governor of Nebraska.”
Several people once close to Herbster started criticizing him more as polling showed his lead narrowing in the GOP primary race with University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen and State Sen. Brett Lindstrom.
Herbster’s emphasis on TV ads and endorsements is testing what Republicans in Nebraska’s massive, largely rural 3rd Congressional District want to see. Republicans in the 3rd Congressional District prefer to see candidates and size them up in person.
Herbster has spent $3.2 million on TV ads to date. Pillen has spent $2.16 million. Lindstrom has spent $852,000. Both Pillen and Lindstrom have spent more than twice as much time as Herbster campaigning in Nebraska, based on information from the campaigns.
“He was never there,” one former staffer said. “We couldn’t get him to campaign. They spaced out the (social media) posts to make it look like he was campaigning, but they were from the times when he bothered to step foot back in the state.”
Most former staff members criticize Herbster as a “traveling salesman” who will tell any person what he thinks they want to hear.
A common theme of staff discussions was Herbster’s willingness to hire Nebraska consultants who advise him on Nebraska issues. Herbster would then disregard the advice when the answers were hard to hear.
“It was his way or the highway,” a third former staffer said. “He brought in all these Nebraskans for advice on how to win, and he listened to none of them. He followed the nationals (national political consultants), and he yelled at all of us in front of people.”
Thibodeau, when asked why she decided to come forward now and not when she quit Herbster’s campaign, said she was not criticizing Herbster to benefit her bid, which is currently polling at a distant fourth.
She said she couldn’t wait any longer because Herbster has a chance to win the primary race, and she wants Nebraska Republicans to know what they’d be getting: a “non-existent, figurehead governor.”
Herbster is now following Ricketts’ example by ramping up his donations to individual legislators. He has been a prolific donor to Republican causes locally and Nationally, including donating millions to Trump’s campaigns and to former State Sen. Beau McCoy’s 2014 run for governor.
Heineman, when asked whether he thought Herbster would make a good governor, said that decision was not his to make.
“I don’t know that anybody can answer that, and I’m not really going to try,” he said. “That’s up to each individual voter in Nebraska.”