Pillen set to be Nebraska’s next governor, the fourth consecutive Republican to hold the job

Nov. 8, 2022, 10 p.m. ·

Jim Pillen walks during a rainy parade in York
Republican candidate for governor Jim Pillen waves to a crowd at a York parade in early September. (Photo courtesy Pillen for Governor)

After starting slow early Tuesday night, Jim Pillen, the Republican from Columbus, swept a decisive victory against Democrat Carol Blood, defeating her by a more than 20 point margin, according to unofficial results from the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office.

Pillen won all but two of Nebraska’s counties – Douglas and Lancaster – in the victory.

“We had tremendous confidence where we were,” Pillen said during his watch party at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln. “We’ve worked really, really hard, and we’ve worked harder than any other candidate in this race.”

Pillen, a pig farmer and University of Nebraska Regent, is known by some for introducing a resolution to oppose teaching critical race theory in University of Nebraska classrooms. During the campaign, he refused to participate in televised debates in both the primary and general election cycle.

He told reporters Tuesday that his next steps will be getting a cabinet in order and building relationships with members of Nebraska’s legislature. “Those are two really important things,” he said.

Pillen campaigned the last year on a platform of advocating for abortion restrictions, reversing the brain drain, shrinking government and aiding agriculture.

During his speech, Pillen said his administration would defend the right to bear arms and it would support law enforcement. He also touted his campaign’s strategy to meet Nebraskans “face-to-face” instead of hosting large events and participating in televised debates.

“I will be the governor of the people of Nebraska, for the people of Nebraska,” he said.

Jim Pillen smiles while shaking hands with a supporter
Pillen won all but two of Nebraska’s counties – Douglas and Lancaster – in his victory Tuesday night. (Photo by Will Bauer, Nebraska Public Media News)

Pillen will be Nebraska’s fourth consecutive Republican governor. A Democrat last won the governor’s race in 1994, when Ben Nelson beat Gene Spence. The last time a Democrat won a statewide race in Nebraska was 2006, when Nelson beat current Gov. Pete Ricketts in a Senate race.

Tuesday’s victory marks an easy victory for Pillen in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly 2-1. In the hotly contested GOP primary, Pillen held off rival Charles Herbster, an agribusinessman from Falls City, and now former state Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha.

Blood conceded the race Tuesday night.

“This is a red state, friends,” said Blood from Omaha’s Firefighters Hall. “We are proud of our numbers, and I got to make a lot of new friends across Nebraska.”

Blood, state senator from Bellevue, stressed improving infrastructure, health care and public safety during her campaign. Blood will return to the legislature with two years left in her term.

“I do wish my opponent luck,” she said. “I hope and pray that he will be more reactive to the media and to the voters that are different than he is and believe other things than he believes because we have to bring all Nebraska together in order for us to move our state forward for a better tomorrow for all.”

Pillen will move into the governor’s mansion in January. Among his biggest decisions as he starts will be appointing a replacement to U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, who’s expected to resign his Senate seat if he’s confirmed as the next University of Florida president later this week.

“When the time comes, and I'm an elected governor, that's when we'll start to focus on if that's reality,” Pillen said.

Pillen’s term with the Board of Regents runs out at the end of 2024, giving his successor two years left in the term. State law requires the governor to appoint a replacement. Pillen said Tuesday night he plans to fill the role until he resigns to be governor, acknowledging he will fill the role once it’s vacated.