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Governor's race in 2022 appears to be wide open
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Governor's race in 2022 appears to be wide open

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Now that the 2020 election battlefield has been cleared, Nebraska's political attention will begin to turn toward a completely undefined 2022 gubernatorial race.

It's wide open, with no incumbent in the contest since Gov. Pete Ricketts is in the process of completing his second and final four-year term.

The nation is in the grip of a pandemic that may begin to ease as COVID-19 vaccines start making their way into arms. But vaccinations are not likely to be substantially completed until deep into 2021, and that, in turn, probably means a slow start to the 2022 gubernatorial race.

In a state where Democrats have been unable to strongly compete recently in big statewide races, the key gubernatorial election may occur when Republicans choose their nominee in May of 2022, rather than in November, further condensing the time for active campaigning. 

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Delayed personal campaigning probably means a larger role for social media along with television.

Agribusiness owner and cattleman Charles Herbster appeared to be the first out of the gubernatorial gate with an early campaign finance filing, but there is growing evidence that he has not yet made a commitment to enter the race.

Charles Herbster

Charles Herbster

"If you raise or spend more than $5,000, you have to legally file a committee with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission," Herbster spokesman Derek Oden says.

"This committee allows Charles to fully explore all his options as we head into the 2022 election cycle. It is not an official campaign announcement."

Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha and former Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha have previously expressed interest in the gubernatorial race. Krist was the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee; Lindstrom is a Republican who is completing his second and final term in the Legislature.

Brett Lindstrom

Brett Lindstrom

Nearly all speculative Republican lists include Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, who is also a former state senator, former state auditor and 2014 gubernatorial candidate, and Bryan Slone of Omaha, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a gubernatorial candidate in 2014.

Lt. Gov. Mike Foley

Lt. Gov. Mike Foley

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Bryan Slone

Bryan Slone, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce president. 

Other prospects have included Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn and University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen. 

The newest GOP addition to the list is Greg Ibach, whose position as U.S. undersecretary of agriculture for marketing and regulatory programs will be filled by a Biden administration appointee not many weeks from now.

Greg Ibach

Greg Ibach

Ibach is Nebraska's former state agriculture director with close ties in rural Nebraska. 

Herbster entered the 2014 Republican gubernatorial race, but subsequently withdrew, citing his wife's failing health.

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Oden said President Donald Trump's loss to Democratic nominee Joe Biden in this year's presidential election will not affect Herbster's "exploration process."

Herbster has been well-positioned politically as national chairman of Trump's agricultural and rural advisory committee and as a loyal Trump ally who has been a familiar face at White House events. 

Nor, Oden said, will the departure of Carlos Castillo from Herbster's inner circle be a factor in whether Herbster ultimately decides to pursue the governorship.

Castillo, who managed former Gov. Dave Heineman's 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary campaign victory over Rep. Tom Osborne, Nebraska's legendary football coach, recently left Herbster's employment to become executive director of the Millard Public Schools Foundation.

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Castillo originally was hired to manage Herbster's 2014 campaign and had long been anticipated as likely to lead any future gubernatorial bid.  

Herbster is owner and CEO of Conklin, a diverse manufacturing and distribution company headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, and owns an Angus cattle operation in Falls City. 

Heineman is a member of Conklin's board of directors.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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