Nebraska GOP Gains 2,000 Voters Ahead of May Primary Election
By Jackie Ourada , Morning Edition Host & Reporter and Will Bauer, Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
April 19, 2022, 6 a.m. ·
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Nebraska's Republican Party gained nearly 2,000 voters within the last month. Online posts point to some of those Democrats-turned-Republican making the jump to weigh in on the state's tightly contested Republican race.
The math isn't perfect. Nebraskans could be dying, moving away, or registering for the first time, but the numbers show a fairly clear picture.
From March to April, Nebraska lost 1,787 Democratic voters and 276 nonpartisans, according to data from the Secretary of State's office. While those numbers don’t perfectly add up to what the Republicans have gained – 1,985 – many are switching.
"I do find that (Brett) Lindstrom is the seemingly most level headed of the three in the primary race for the Republican ticket," said Ryan McCann, a mental health therapist from Gretna.
Until a few weeks ago, McCann registered as a Democrat. He describes himself as a moderate in the party. After watching some of Jim Pillen and Charles Herbster’s television advertisements, McCann felt like he wanted a say in the Republican primary. So he switched parties.
"It's not necessarily that I aligned with their particular values – or even Lindstrom," McCann said.
Herbster's close affiliation with former President Donald Trump rubbed McCann the wrong way. McCann said Pillen's resolution to ban critical race theory as a University of Nebraska regent did the same.
"I just find myself not wanting to see them in power," McCann said.
And McCann is not alone. Multiple social media posts indicate more Nebraskans might be making the political hop soon.
The conversation about jumping onto the Republican ship stems into Nebraska's "Blue Dot" — District 2.
Josh Charvat, a Democrat who recently registered as a Republican, said he will skip the Omaha elections on the Democrat side, including the House of Representatives race that will select who faces incumbent Don Bacon in the general election.
Charvat said conservative messaging in advertisements for Herbster and Pillen pushed him to change his voter registration.
"It seemed like it was a race to the most partisan ideas in the political ads," Charvat said. He works in the economic development sector and said the unwelcoming messaging would hurt Nebraska's attempt at recruiting workers from other states.
"Coming from the background I do, one thing we need to focus on is migration — whether that's net migration or immigration from other countries," Charvat said.
"I don't think [the negative advertisements] are indicative of the people who live here and what values we hold."
Charvat said making the voter registration switch makes him feel like he may make a difference in who gets into the Capitol.
In this year’s race, Nebraskans must be registered as a Republican to vote in the Republican primary. The state GOP decided to close the primary earlier this year.
This migration to the right isn’t great news for the head of the state’s Democratic Party.
"What that does is it waters down the Democratic vote," Jane Kleeb said. "It takes away votes on the primary ballot from our Democrats who need to show strength coming out of the primary."
The last time a Democrat won a statewide office was 2006 when Nebraska voters elected Ben Nelson to the U.S. Senate.
"If you're a Democrat, this is not a strategic move," she said. "Because, in fact, Carol Blood will be better poised to take on Herbster or Pillen, if they get out of the primary, than a Lindstrom."
Dark money groups have jumped on Lindstrom’s appeal to moderates with televised ads. So have fellow GOP candidates. After the NSEA, or Nebraska State Education Association, endorsed Lindstrom in the GOP primary, Pillen criticized Lindstrom.
"Lindstrom has a liberal voting record and now the support of the liberal NSEA, a left-wing Nebraska organization that supports CRT, gender ideology and mask mandates," Pillen said in a statement. "No conservative should accept the endorsement of the NSEA."
Pillen also pointed out Lindstrom is endorsed by politicians who'd changed political parties themselves – like the late former Congressman Brad Ashford and Bob Krist, a former state senator and Democratic nominee for governor.
Lindstrom said he doesn’t mind the Nebraska voters changing their party to vote for him.
"It's not something that I necessarily, or that we, promoted," Lindstrom said. "But it's interesting."
Lindstrom believes that’s a nod to his positive campaign messages and his ability to work with others.
"We're building a big tent, apparently, based on some of those rumors – or what I'm hearing from people – and that's okay because that's what it's gonna take to do the big things and accomplish the goals that we're setting out for Nebraska," he said.
For Ryan McCann, this isn’t the wrong move. He said in the November general election he’ll likely vote for the Democrat, but he feels there’s a good chance that whichever Republican wins the primary will likely take the governor's seat.
"I want to make sure that it's at least a decent candidate in the opposition," he said. "I just felt like, ‘Hey, if I can help at least a decent candidate make it to the fight, you know, to the general election in November, then, you know, I'm going to. I'm going to do it.’"
The last day for Nebraska voters to change parties is May 2.
Editor's note: A previous line in this story incorrectly stated the last time a Nebraska Democrat won a statewide office.
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