What do GOP gubernatorial ads say about candidates? UNL professors weigh in

We asked UNL professors to analyze campaign ads for GOP primary frontrunners. Here's what they had to say.

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Jim Pillen attacking D.C. politicians, Charles Herbster attacking Pillen’s record on critical race theory, Brett Lindstrom posing with a football and his family.

The three top contenders in the Republican primary are taking different approaches to one goal: getting people to the polls.

“In a red state like Nebraska, I mean, you’re trying to out-conservative a conservative,” said Kevin Smith, chairman of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s political science department. “In a deeply red state like this, that’s not an easy thing to do.”

Smith noted that Pillen and Herbster have gone on the attack.

“There’s a reason people go negative, is because it works,” Smith said. “Pillen and Herbster are people who are going aggressively on red meat, base talking points.”

But Lindstrom has gone with a more promotional approach.

“Lindstrom’s message is more positive,” Smith said. “Here I am, I am a good, conservative Nebraskan, and I want to do good things for the state.”

Bryan Wang, a strategic communications professor at UNL, said the three candidates use symbols, whether its Pillen with his gun or Lindstrom with his family, in an attempt to connect with voters.

“The symbolic images in ads, even though they may not comment specifically on those messages, but implicitly, they appeal to people’s values,” Wang said.

Smith added, “The gun, the outdoorsy sort of stuff, that is an image that is specifically designed to appeal to base Republican voters in the state, many of whom are rural.”

Smith cautioned that polling data for this year’s primary is unreliable, but a February survey with more than 1,000 respondents showed Herbster with a 27 percent to 26 percent lead over Pillen, with Lindstrom receiving 21 percent.

If those numbers are any indication, Nebraskans could be in store for a close race this May.

“The challenge and the task of these gubernatorial campaigns is oftentimes to identify that issue that your supporters really care about,” Wang said.

The winner of the Republican primary will run against Sen. Carol Blood in November, who is the only Democrat running.

The primary election is scheduled for May 10.

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