Nebraska Republicans rally for ‘unity’ as party shows cracks heading into fall

Nebraska’s Republicans upheld their tradition Wednesday of hosting a “unity rally” the day after GOP candidates compete in contested primary elections.

Charles Herbster, the second-place finisher Tuesday in the gubernatorial race, attended, as did Theresa Thibodeau, Herbster’s former running mate, who finished fourth in the governor’s primary.

They and several others who lost primary elections Tuesday attended the rally to show that they back the winning candidates, including University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen, the GOP nominee for governor.

State Sen. Brett Lindstrom, who finished third in the governor’s primary race, didn’t attend the rally, although he endorsed Pillen during his concession speech Tuesday night.

“I think that what’s important today is that we think about tomorrow,” Pillen said Wednesday. “I will work to earn the rest of Republicans’ votes, eyeball to eyeball, across this state.”

Divisions within the state’s dominant political party remain, however, and must be repaired, Herbster said during his concession speech Tuesday night. He did not speak during the rally Wednesday.

GOP incumbents faced stiffer-than-usual protest votes on Tuesday, including many from voters who lodged complaints online about the state’s “political establishment.”

Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen, who is running for re-election, received 94,566 votes Tuesday, winning over two primary challengers. But those challengers, Robert Borer and Rex Schroder, drew a combined 122,239 votes.

State Treasurer John Murante, seeking re-election, saw perennial candidate Paul Anderson pick up 43% of the GOP primary vote.

Even Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, running for state auditor, watched a nominal opponent, Larry Anderson, get 27% of the vote Tuesday.

“It’s unity in name only,” Nebraska Democratic Party chairwoman Jane Kleeb said Wednesday by phone. “The Republicans are fractured and divided.”

Tuesday’s protest vote was less pronounced in the three U.S. House races. Second District Rep. Don Bacon earned 77% of the primary vote against upstart Steve Kuehl, even after former President Donald Trump targeted the congressman during a rally for Herbster.

State Sen. Mike Flood, who won the GOP nomination in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District, rallied Republicans around a goal of firing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“This morning we are standing together united as one Republican team,” Flood said. “We are all on the same team. … We are working to make sure conservative GOP values are represented in Washington.”

Flood criticized his general election opponent, Democratic State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, as a supporter of abortion on demand and said that anti-abortion Nebraskans will make their voices heard.

Flood and Pansing Brooks will face off in a June 28 special election to replace former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry for the remainder of 2022. Fortenberry resigned in March after being convicted of three felonies. Flood and Pansing Brooks will also be on the November ballot to determine who represents the district in the next term.

“The stakes in this race are as high as they have ever been for women’s reproductive health,” Pansing Brooks said in a statement. “My GOP opponent co-sponsored legislation this year that would force raped children and incest victims to go to term. I will lead in Congress to combat the Supreme Court’s rollback to the dark ages and protect all women’s bodily autonomy.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Pillen supporter, help to fund millions of dollars worth of negative outside ads against Herbster and Lindstrom, turning off some GOP voters. On Wednesday, Ricketts tried to re-focus Republicans on defeating Democrats.

Primaries, the governor said at the unity rally, strengthen “our conservative cause” and make candidates better.

“We have to remember that our primary goal is to beat the Democrats in November,” he said.


Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump's candidate in Nebraska defeated in GOP gubernatorial primary after groping scandal

Former Husker defensive back Jim Pillen knows how to pull victory from the clutches of defeat. He did it in 1978, recovering a fumble to help Nebraska beat Oklahoma.

He did it again Tuesday, snatching Nebraska’s GOP nomination for governor from Charles Herbster, the primary race favorite who had been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

Pillen notched a narrow win with help from much of the state’s Republican establishment, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, former Gov. Kay Orr, and Pillen’s former coach and U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne.

The University of Nebraska regent had 33% of the vote as of midnight. Herbster, the CEO of Conklin Co., was second with about 30%. State Sen. Brett Lindstrom was running third with about 26%.

“It’s been an extraordinary journey,” Pillen said Tuesday night, speaking at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Lincoln.
He thanked Ricketts, who responded from the crowd, shouting, “You’re gonna be a great governor, Jim.”
Pillen says his top priority is helping young Nebraskans know “the grass is greenest in Nebraska” and said he will work daily to help kids get the education and training they need.

He said he will be the first farmer in the governor’s mansion in about a century. It is important, he said, that Republicans come together on Wednesday to work together and make Nebraska the best place to live.

“I love public service. I love making a difference,” Pillen said. “You know, I’m guilty. I love Nebraska.”

Pillen, speaking to state senators, said, “Together, we are going to carry it across and end abortion in Nebraska.”

Herbster called the race one of the “nastiest campaigns for governor in the country.”

“That’s sad,” he said, adding that it likely played “a very, very significant role in the results.”

“This is what I’ve said all along, this was in God’s hands,” Herbster added. “I don’t know the reason. There is a reason.”

His concession speech at the Lincoln Grand Station was spiced with many thanks to campaign workers and supporters, including Corey Lewandowski, who called it a “dirty, nasty campaign.”

One Herbster supporter, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, said he was puzzled by Tuesday’s voting. Recent polling, he said, had Herbster winning, but that didn’t happen.

“I’m surprised,” said Foley, who easily won the GOP primary to reclaim his old job as state auditor.

Lindstrom thanked the crowd gathered at A View on State in northwest Omaha. “I want to take it in for just a minute.”

He said he called Pillen to congratulate him shortly before 11 p.m.

His campaign took him to all of Nebraska’s 93 counties in his quest to take the governor’s seat, he said.

“We put in the work,” he told his supporters. “Who knows what the future holds, right?”

“I hope he doesn’t give up. I hope this isn’t the end,” said Lindstrom supporter Emily Oxley. She and another Lindstrom friend, Tara Chickinell, refused to sulk and stuck around after race had been called.

As the last few party-goers left, Lindstrom said in an interview that he plans to “take a little break,” spend time with his wife and kids and figure out his next moves.

“We’ll reassess and see what the future holds,” Lindstrom said.
Tuesday night was the first time he had gotten to visit with many good friends, he said, as he’s been campaigning so much in every county of the state. He said he owes his wife a few trips.

He congratulated Pillen and said he will endorse him, despite the negative comments along the way. “It’s part of politics,” he said, taking the high road.

Events in every county

Pillen won by campaigning in small groups across the state, hosting more than 400 events in all 93 counties, including about 30 hosted by the Nebraska Farm Bureau.

At those events, including one in North Platte, he handed out his policy prescription, the “Pillen Playbook.” He stressed the need to educate and keep young people in the state.

He also proposed capping school spending growth so state property tax relief funds make a bigger dent.

His campaign offered Christian conservatives safe harbor from Herbster controversies over late tax payments and allegations of groping by eight women.

Negative third-party ads

Pillen kept his campaign advertising positive early in the campaign but hit back later after facing attacks from Herbster on his environmental impact as a farmer and his voting record as an NU regent.

Pillen also benefited from Ricketts and other Pillen supporters running negative third-party ads against Herbster and Lindstrom, questioning where Herbster lives and criticizing him for doing business out-of-state. Other ads hammered Lindstrom’s record on his voting record.

This fall, with twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats, Pillen will be the favorite against State Sen. Carol Blood, who won the Democratic primary race Tuesday.

Blood said Tuesday that voters are “sick and tired of the negative political rhetoric and business as usual coming from the Republican Party.”

“Nebraskans are ready for NEW BLOOD to create effective change and grow our state in a direction that makes it a place where people of all ages — no matter what they look like or what is in their bank account — can count on a better and more prosperous future,” Blood said in a statement. “Every Nebraskan has a voice and deserves a seat at the table, that is exactly what I will do as the next governor.”

Pillen won the election by eclipsing Herbster’s support in many parts of Nebraska’s sprawling, largely rural 3rd Congressional District, which often decides open primaries for governor with higher turnout.

Smaller cities, rural areas

Pillen cemented his advantage in the smaller cities and rural areas of the 1st Congressional District, including Columbus, where Pillen lives and runs a massive hog operation.

Pillen outperformed what was expected of him in Lancaster County, which includes Lincoln. While he trailed Lindstrom and Herbster in Douglas County, he beat both of them in Lancaster County.

The three top contenders emerged from nine GOP candidates, including former State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau, who finished fourth with 6% of the vote.

In the end, it may have been Pillen’s investment of time and money in campaign foot soldiers in 93 counties that helped him turn out enough of his voters to win.

Nebraska Examiner senior reporters Paul Hammel and Cindy Gonzalez contributed to this report.


Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump to hold follow-up call with voters after Nebraska rally for Charles Herbster

Four days after hosting more than 3,000 people at a rally in eastern Nebraska, former President Donald Trump is dialing back into the state’s GOP primary race for governor.

Trump is hosting a “telephone rally” Thursday with Conklin Co. CEO Charles Herbster. Trump’s team has scheduled a call at 6 p.m. CDT.

Herbster is in a competitive race for the state’s Republican nomination for governor with University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen and State Sen. Brett Lindstrom headng into Tuesday’s primary election.

Herbster, in a podcast interview Wednesday with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, said his internal polling shows him “maintaining” a slight lead. Other candidates’ recent polls have shown different leaders.

Most political observers expect a close race, swayed by still-undecided voters.

In another twist that might skew polling results, 8,400 Nebraskans have registered as Republicans since the beginning of March. The number of registered Democrats and independents dropped by nearly the same number. Only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary.

Trump held a similar phone rally in Ohio for U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance, who won the GOP nomination there Tuesday. Trump endorsed Vance late in the race.

By contrast, his endorsement of Herbster in Nebraska came in October, which Herbster has promoted heavily for months. Political observers have questioned how many GOP primary voters didn’t already know Trump’s choice.

The phone number for the Trump-Herbster rally is (308) 210-7274.


Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump and friends to rally for Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster amid groping scandal

Nebraska GOP gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster, facing groping allegations from eight women, is hosting a race track rally Friday with former President Donald Trump and friends.

The speakers are a who’s who from Trump world: Trump, Kellyanne Conway, who is Herbster’s national campaign manager, and David Bossie of Citizens United, whom Herbster has said is helping his campaign.

Others include Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Herbster-backed Conservative Political Action Committee, and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, who sat near Herbster at the Trump rally on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Herbster will speak during the pre-program of warm-up speakers for Trump. That portion of the activities is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. at the I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Nebraska, Herbster campaign spokeswoman Emily Novotny confirmed Thursday.

Doors open to the public at 3 p.m., with public tickets available on Trump’s Save America website. The campaign said it does not expect weather to affect the stop, although some forecasts call for potential rain and storms.

Herbster has faced criticism in Nebraska for suing and running a paid campaign TV ad against State Sen. Julie Slama, one of eight women who told the Nebraska Examiner that Herbster had groped them at political events and beauty pageants at some point during the last six years. The women’s accounts were corroborated by witnesses or people the women spoke to immediately afterward.

Slama counter-sued Herbster Monday, alleging sexual battery. Her lawsuit alleges he reached up her skirt during a Douglas County Republican Party dinner in 2019 and touched her inappropriately, without her consent. Herbster has denied wrongdoing.

Four other Republican women serving with Slama in the Legislature announced a fund Tuesday to cover potential legal costs for any women or witnesses who might come forward with credible allegations against Herbster.

Slama is likely to face criticism during the rally. Conway, like Herbster, has said the allegations are a product of Gov. Pete Ricketts and his favored candidate, Jim Pillen. Both denied being part of a conspiracy.

Trump himself could be involved in Herbster’s response to the allegations, Politico reported Thursday: “The former president relayed word that Herbster wasn’t fighting back hard enough, backing plans for Herbster to hold a press conference aggressively denying the allegations and pushing back at his adversaries.”

Trump is expected to speak at 8 p.m.


Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP candidate targets groping accuser in paid campaign TV ad, perhaps a first in Nebraska

Nebraska GOP gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster is using a paid campaign TV ad to attack the Republican state senator who has sued him for sexual battery.

Slama was one of eight women who told the Nebraska Examiner that Herbster had groped them at political events and beauty pageants at some point during the last six years. All of the women’s accounts were corroborated by witnesses or people the women spoke to immediately afterward. Slama was the only one of the eight women who spoke on the record.

Herbster sued Slama Friday for defamation. His lawsuit asserts that he is the victim of a “politically motivated and groundless attack” and that Herbster seeks to “defend his reputation and good name.”

Slama filed a countersuit on Monday. Her attorneys called Herbster’s action a “frivolous and bad faith attempt to bully a sexual assault victim into silence.”

Candidates under fire often defend themselves by questioning an accuser’s credibility, said Dona-Gene Barton, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

They typically do so at news conferences, in interviews and on talk radio, she said. They also turn to social media and surrogates, said Barton, who studies how politicians respond to crises.

“We live in a world where facts often mean very little in voters’ minds,” Barton said. “Campaigns with enough money can spin the narrative. It doesn’t matter so much what the facts are. It matters how you spin the narrative.”

Barton said candidates have learned to confront serious allegations head-on. They would rather spin the response in their own words than have the news media or other campaigns do it, she said.

Herbster is defending himself on multiple fronts this way, she said. She pointed to a recent ad in which he looks at the camera and gives an explanation for being late nearly 600 times in paying his property taxes.

The new Herbster ad marks an unusual moment in local politics. One longtime political observer said he had never seen a Nebraska candidate attack an alleged victim in a paid TV ad.

“Politicians often attack each other, but that’s not what this is doing,” said Paul Landow, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “This is attacking the victim of a serious crime alleged to have been committed by the politician paying for the ad.”

The risk of this approach, Landow said, is that it could hurt Herbster with women, even as it excites some parts of his political base that want him to fight.

Herbster’s new ad hit days before he is to be a featured speaker at a Save America Rally in Greenwood, Nebraska, on Friday with former President Donald Trump, who endorsed him in October.

Herbster has previously compared himself to Trump and to Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, all of whom faced accusations of impropriety from women. The new ad does not mention Trump, but it does begin by picturing Thomas and Kavanaugh.

The narrator says “lies” were stacked up to “ruin” both Republican nominees to the Supreme Court. Both justices were confirmed by the Senate after contentious confirmation hearings.

The ad shows images of GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen and Gov. Pete Ricketts, saying they are responsible for the allegations against Herbster. Ricketts and Pillen have said they are not involved in any conspiracy.

The ad does not name Slama but talks about Herbster’s “accuser” and mentions connections between Slama and Ricketts. The ad questions why Herbster’s accuser called, texted and met with him after “the supposed incident.”

Experts, including Christon MacTaggart of the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, have said such follow-up contact with an alleged abuser is “incredibly common.” Victims, she said, often have trouble processing what has happened to them. Some want to just move on.

The ad also mentions Herbster getting an online invitation to Slama’s wedding. Slama has said that was a mistake and said she wasn’t aware of it until Herbster RSVP’d.

One of Slama’s lawyers, Dave Lopez, said Tuesday that what happened to Slama was real, and not part of some “wild conspiracy.” Lopez said Slama would hold Herbster accountable for the ad, which he described as slanderous and defamatory.

“Charles Herbster is solely responsible for the harm he inflicted against Senator Slama, and he will answer for it in court,” Lopez said.

Herbster’s campaign declined to comment about the ad, which began running statewide on Tuesday, except to say it would continue to run.

Terri Poore, policy director of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, based in Washington, D.C., has worked with victims and advocacy groups for 30 years.

She said she has never seen a political ad like this one. The tone that political leaders take in responding to alleged sexual violence is key to preventing future sexual violence, Poore said.

“We’ve been at this moment in this nation of really reckoning with sexual assault,” she said. “More and more survivors are willing to come forward. But this kind of rhetoric, this kind of language sets us back.

“It tells survivors that their worst fears are true. … We have to speak about these issues in ways that encourage people to come forward.”

MacTaggart, the Nebraska advocate, said her organization has seen an increase in emails and calls from sexual assault survivors since the Examiner article was published April 14. Many have said they were experiencing trauma after seeing or hearing about the women’s allegations, the subsequent lawsuits and the new ad, she said.

Women for Herbster, a group of the candidate’s supporters who post often on Herbster’s campaign Facebook page, have posted pictures and testimonials in recent days defending Herbster.

They have shared his campaign’s message that Herbster hires and promotes women. Herbster’s campaign manager, Ellen Keast, and his national campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, have spoken out in his defense.

All the women serving in the Nebraska Legislature have come forward to defend Slama. State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan said Herbster crossed the line by suing Slama and then crossed it again by running this ad.

“It’s disgusting,” Linehan said. “It would be one thing if there was one victim here. There’s seven (more) victims. They’re all in their early 20s or late teens. He doesn’t go around to women in our age group, who would turn around and slap him.”

Victims of sexual violence can contact the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence to access a statewide network of service providers online, or by calling the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network’s survivor hotline toll-free at (800) 656-4673.


Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP candidate Charles Herbster hit with a countersuit after taking legal action against sexual battery accuser

State Sen. Julie Slama formally responded Monday to a defamation lawsuit filed Friday by Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster. Slama also countersued Herbster, alleging sexual battery.

In an unusual legal move, Slama’s lawyers, Dave Lopez and Marnie Jensen, didn’t wait until Slama had been served with Herbster’s lawsuit before responding to it. She had not been served with the lawsuit as of Monday morning. They are asking to have the lawsuit dismissed with prejudice, which means it could not be filed again.

The dueling lawsuits follow a Nebraska Examiner report published April 14, in which Slama was one of eight women who alleged that Herbster had groped them at political events and beauty pageants over the last six years.

Slama was the only one of the eight women who came forward by name. She confirmed that Herbster had reached up her dress during a political dinner in 2019 and touched her without her consent.

Herbster’s lawsuit alleges that Slama’s comments to the Examiner and her subsequent statements to other news media were part of a “politically motivated and groundless attack,” and says he is seeking to “defend his reputation and good name.”

Slama’s legal response said Herbster’s filing “fails to allege necessary elements of a public libel claim under Nebraska law, and purports to seek damages which are barred by the plain language of the defamation statutes.”

Lopez, in a statement Monday, said Slama’s team would not let Herbster file a “frivolous bad-faith lawsuit that purports to cast doubt on Senator Slama’s account of her sexual assault, use his national media megaphone to herald the existence of that lawsuit for his own gain, but then take no steps to actually serve it and subject himself to the legal accountability such service would trigger.”

In the same statement, Slama’s attorneys said they have notified Herbster they are ready to take his videotaped deposition May 6 at the Johnson County Courthouse in Tecumseh, Nebraska. The state’s primary election is set for May 10.

“We will show this lawsuit for what it is: a frivolous and bad faith attempt to bully a sexual assault victim into silence,” Lopez wrote in the statement. “Charles Herbster chose to subject himself to Nebraska’s judicial system, and Senator Slama will hold him to that choice.”

Herbster’s campaign spokesperson said Monday that he stands by the claims in his lawsuit. “Mr. Herbster will continue to fight against the false accusations and attacks on his character and looks forward to clearing his name and reputation through the legal process,” said the statement by Emily Novotny.

Herbster, in his lawsuit and in public comments, has accused Gov. Pete Ricketts, Slama and the Republican “establishment” of seeking to sully his reputation so that he doesn’t win the GOP race.

After the Examiner’s report was published, Slama talked about the 2019 incident on KFAB radio. In a followup report April 19, three people spoke to the Examiner on the record to confirm three of the eight women’s accounts, including Slama’s.

Slama’s countersuit states, “Shortly after Slama entered the Dinner and as she was heading to her table, she felt Herbster’s hand reach up her dress and inappropriately touch her. Slama in no way consented to Herbster reaching up her dress or touching her.”

Slama is seeking damages for her personal reputation and psychological care.

Ricketts, who appointed Slama to the Legislature, pointed out Monday that eight women are making allegations against Herbster, not just Slama alone.

Herbster “clearly needs to, in my opinion, seek help and drop out of the race,” Ricketts told reporters at an unrelated press conference. “That’s the right thing to do.”

Nebraska Examiner senior reporter Paul Hammel contributed to this report.


Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Three people go on the record to confirm allegations of groping by Trump-endorsed candidate Charles Herbster

Two men and a woman on Monday put their names behind what they said they either saw directly or were told immediately afterward about Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster groping young women at political events.

All three said they were upset by Herbster’s denials of the behavior. They said they were also upset by how Herbster and some of his political allies have treated State Sen. Julie Slama since the Nebraska Examiner last week reported the allegations against Herbster.

Slama, a Republican who represents District 1 in southeast Nebraska, spoke to the Examiner on the record for last week’s article to confirm that Herbster had reached up her dress during a 2019 political event and touched her without permission.

Two of the three who came forward Monday had previously spoken to the Examiner to corroborate accounts of women who had made allegations. The third person commented after the initial article was published.

In addition to Slama, six other women told the Examiner that Herbster had groped them on their buttocks, outside of their clothes, during public events. A seventh woman said Herbster once cornered her in a private setting and forcibly kissed her. All seven women spoke on the condition that their names be withheld. The Nebraska Examiner grants anonymity to those alleging sexual assault, unless they consent to be named.

The Examiner corroborated six of the women’s accounts with at least one witness to each incident. The other two women told at least one person about the incident on the same day it occurred. Each witness and confidant confirmed the women’s descriptions of what happened.

Herbster has vehemently denied the women’s allegations, calling them “lies.” On Thursday, in response to a question from conservative KFAB talk radio host Ian Swanson, Herbster said he had done nothing in the past five years that might be misinterpreted as groping a woman without her consent.

“I think that’s ridiculous,” Edward Boone said Monday of Herbster’s denials, “because I’ve seen him first-hand grope a woman.”

Boone, a combat veteran and current Nebraska legislative aide, said he came forward Monday because he didn’t want Slama to have to stand alone. He said he was sitting with friends and acquaintances at the Douglas County Republican Party’s annual Elephant Remembers fundraising dinner in 2019 when Herbster walked up to their table and introduced himself.

Boone, confirming what the Examiner reported last week, said Herbster shook the hands of young men at the table. When young women at the table reached out for a handshake, Herbster pulled them into a hug, Boone said.

“While introducing himself to one of the women, he started to hug her,” Boone said. “He then moved his hands down to her buttocks and deliberately and aggressively grabbed them.”

Boone said he asked the woman afterward if she wanted him to intervene with Herbster. She said no. She “wanted to put this traumatic experience behind her,” Boone said. She still fears retribution from Herbster because of his wealth and power, he said.

Boone’s decision to go public was one of “faith” and “ethics,” he said, not politics. He said he didn’t originally want his name used out of concern it might identify the woman involved. He said he doesn’t know who he’s going to vote for this May, nor should it matter. What does matter, he said, is that Herbster should be held accountable.

He called Slama brave for speaking out publicly. He said he understands that he and other witnesses who are speaking out will make themselves targets of criticism.

“The truth must come out about this despicable behavior of Charles Herbster,” Boone said.

Alex DeGarmo, a legislative staffer who worked on Gov. Pete Ricketts’ 2018 campaign, said he came forward Monday to support Slama, not out of any political motivation. DeGarmo also attended the 2019 dinner. He said Slama told him at the event that Herbster had just reached up her dress and touched her as she was walking past him. DeGarmo said Slama was “shaken and disturbed.”

“The allegations made by Senator Julie Slama against Charles Herbster are undeniably true,” DeGarmo said. “I was told, in confidence immediately after it occurred, about the interactions that took place.”

He said he admired Slama’s “bravery for coming forward.”

Kelsey McDonald said that watching Slama step forward to say what happened to her was a key reason McDonald decided to come forward by name about what she saw at Herbster’s kickoff event for his gubernatorial bid. McDonald, who is now attending college out of state, had been a staffer and volunteer in local GOP politics. She worked on the campaigns of U.S. Reps. Don Bacon and Jeff Fortenberry.

McDonald went to the April 2021 kickoff event in Fremont with two of her friends. All were excited to see Herbster and his national campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. They were fans.

Neither of her friends had been involved in political campaigns, she said, and thought it would be fun to attend. Then they went to take a picture of themselves with Herbster.

“After the picture, we were walking away,” McDonald said. “My friend says, ‘Oh, my God. Charles Herbster grabbed my (slang for buttocks).’”

A Herbster staffer heard the woman say that, and her comments were relayed to at least two other campaign workers that day, former staffers told the Examiner.

McDonald said she was once groped by a man — not Herbster — and said grabbing someone like that is “disrespectful.”

“As a woman, I don’t want to be praised for just being a woman,” she said. “But it feels disrespectful when you’re trying to do something serious, and to know that’s how you’re looked at, instead of as an individual or someone who has something to offer.

“You feel just more objectified.”

She said she understands the reluctance of other women to come forward. She said she admires Slama for doing so and is trying to follow her example.

Herbster is prominent in the political world, has a lot of money and can affect a person’s life in a lot of ways, she said. “It’s tough,” she said. “It’s scary.”

“She’s being very selfless,” McDonald said of Slama. “She had the most to lose, and probably the most damage could be done to her reputation as to anybody else’s.”


Victims of sexual violence can contact the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence to access a statewide network of service providers online, or by phone at (402) 476-6256.


Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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Trump to stump for Nebraska candidate facing groping allegations

Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster is getting the Nebraska visit he sought for months from former President Donald Trump late in a tightening GOP race.

Trump’s team announced Tuesday that Trump would appear at an April 29 rally at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Nebraska, less than two weeks before the May 10 primary election.

The invitation to the Trump rally lists Herbster as Trump’s special guest speaker.

Herbster had been the clear favorite in the Republican governor’s primary for months since securing Trump’s endorsement in October. Polling in recent months shows a tightening three-way race between Herbster, University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen and State Sen. Brett Lindstrom.

Gov. Pete Ricketts has backed Pillen, and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert has endorsed Lindstrom. Former State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau is also among those running.

This will be Trump’s first political rally in Nebraska since Oct. 27, 2020, when the president said he had rallied more than 29,000 people on the private side of Eppley Airfield in Omaha.

Trump won Nebraska’s statewide vote in 2020, but he lost an Electoral College vote to President Joe Biden in the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District.


Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

'It's terrifying': GOP state senator and seven other women say they were groped by Republican frontrunner Charles Herbster

Time after time, Charles Herbster worked the crowds as he attended events, either as a candidate for Nebraska governor, a significant Republican donor or a beauty pageant judge.

He would go up to a group and introduce himself. Often wearing his signature cowboy hat and suit, he would extend a handshake to the men. But when young women reached out for a handshake, as well, on at least several occasions he pulled them into an embrace instead.

Herbster, the CEO of Conklin Co. and now a frontrunner in the 2022 GOP primary race, sometimes went further, according to eight women who spoke with the Nebraska Examiner.

During an event in 2019, for example, Republican State Sen. Julie Slama confirmed that as she walked by Herbster, he reached up her skirt, without her consent, and touched her inappropriately. The incident happened in the middle of a crowded ballroom at the Douglas County Republican Party’s annual Elephant Remembers dinner.

At the time, Slama had been recently appointed to the District 1 legislative seat representing southeast Nebraska. Herbster owns a farm and a house in the district.

Another person attending the 2019 event saw Herbster reach up Slama’s skirt and had told the Examiner about it. That witness and two others said they saw Herbster grope another young woman on her buttocks at the same event.

When the Examiner asked Slama on Monday if the two incidents at the event had been described accurately, and whether Herbster had touched her under her skirt, Slama said: “Yes, confirmed,” but declined to discuss the incidents further.

Six women, including the woman Slama saw being groped at the Elephant Remembers dinner, told the Nebraska Examiner that Herbster touched them inappropriately when they were saying hello or goodbye to him, or when they were posing for a photograph by his side.

The women said Herbster groped them on their buttocks, outside of their clothes, during political events or beauty pageants. Each woman said she was grabbed, not inadvertently grazed, by Herbster.

A seventh woman said Herbster once cornered her privately and kissed her forcibly.

All the incidents occurred between 2017 and this year, according to those involved. The women ranged in age from their late teens to mid-20s at the time of the incidents.

Herbster’s campaign manager, Ellen Keast, in a statement issued Wednesday evening, said Herbster denied the women’s allegations “unequivocally.” Keast said that “this is a political hit-piece built on 100% false and baseless claims.” Keast blamed the “political establishment” for “smearing and trying to destroy him with lies.”

“Charles W. Herbster has a lifetime record of empowering women to lead,” Keast said in her statement. “His company, farm, and campaign are all run by women. Despite leading hundreds of employees, not once has his reputation been attacked in this disgusting manner.”

Keast, who said her family has known Herbster for nearly a decade, said she had never experienced anything like the women described. “Never,” she said. “He’s an honest, respectful man.”

Concerned about careers

All of the women except Slama spoke to the Examiner on the condition that their names be withheld. The Nebraska Examiner grants anonymity to those alleging sexual assault, unless they consent to be named.

Several of the women said they feared Herbster’s wealth and power. Three said they were concerned about their careers if they reported the behavior. Three worried about the reaction of their parents and churches.

Two of the women said they were still considering filing a police report.

Each of the women said she had shown an interest in GOP politics, conservative causes or beauty pageants when she met Herbster. All denied political motivations in talking about Herbster’s actions.

“Being a conservative Republican woman in politics, you just expect to be treated with respect. To be treated in that way in a public event, in front of everyone, just to prove, I believe, that he could get away with it, and not having recourse, it’s terrifying,” one woman said.

“I’m scared for any young women that he would be dealing with in the future. Don’t send your daughters to work for this guy,” she said.

The Nebraska Examiner corroborated six of the women’s accounts with at least one witness to each incident. The other two women told at least one person about the incident on the same day it occurred. Each witness and confidant confirmed the women’s description of what happened.

One witness said he saw Herbster grope a woman during a large conservative gathering and was appalled. The witness, a combat veteran, asked the woman if she wanted him to intervene. She asked him to restrain himself because she didn’t want to cause a scene.

A witness to a different incident showed the Examiner a photograph of a young woman posing with a group after meeting Herbster. Herbster’s arm is stretched behind the woman, just below her waist. Both the woman and the witness have confirmed that Herbster was grabbing the woman’s buttocks at the time.

A few of the women said Herbster placed himself in their exit path after events, making it difficult to leave without talking to him. One called it “creepy and controlling.”

Under state law, touching a person inappropriately without consent on the outside of their clothes constitutes third-degree sexual assault. If the person was injured, it’s second-degree sex assault. Any penetration constitutes first-degree sexual assault.

1 in 6 American women

National statistics indicate that 1 out of 6 American women have been sexually assaulted. Only 15% of sexual assaults occur in public places, according to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, or RAINN, citing federal crime data.

Power and the drive for power spur much of the sexual violence that takes place, said Christon MacTaggart, executive director of the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Many sexual assault survivors face prolonged trauma, including PTSD, anxiety, depression and isolation, whether or not they access services like counseling, MacTaggart said. But those who seek help and have support see better outcomes, she said.

Survivors endure economic impacts, too, she said, ranging from sick days and missed work to the loss of opportunities to advance in their careers, often because they’re dealing with trauma.

“From what I’ve seen, it’s not always so much about how severe the degree of sexual violence was,” MacTaggart said. “What I would say is, to all survivors, we see you and we believe you.

“It takes great courage to come forward with allegations of sexual violence all the time, but especially against someone who is in a position of power.”

Three of the women interviewed by the Examiner said they no longer follow politics because of what happened. Two said they have sought counseling. Two others said they just want to forget about what happened. One said she now carries a gun to protect herself.

Deb Portz, a campaign volunteer and donor who is part of the Herbster for Women group, often defends him when people attack him politically on the campaign’s Facebook page. When someone alleged on the page that Herbster had improperly touched a woman, she suggested the candidate was a “hugger” and that the commenter was misrepresenting what he saw.

Thibodeau saw no groping

Herbster’s former running mate, Theresa Thibodeau, who is now running against him in the GOP contest, expressed disgust at the allegations.

Thibodeau said she had not been aware of allegations about Herbster, nor had she seen him grope anybody. She helped the campaign for much of 2021.

“I would have come out publicly immediately,” said Thibodeau, a former state senator. “Because no woman should ever be made to feel that way or be too scared to come forward.”

She ended her involvement with his campaign in July, saying he was poorly prepared to be governor and would not put in the work she thought he needed.

She said she was troubled, however, by an episode after she left. Politico reported Sept. 29 that Herbster was with Corey Lewandowski during a Sept. 26 charity fundraiser in Las Vegas when an Idaho GOP donor’s wife alleged that Lewandowski made lewd, unwanted advances toward her. Herbster issued a statement later saying he had asked Lewandowski to “step back” from his role as a senior adviser to Herbster’s campaign.

Thibodeau told the Examiner she was troubled because Herbster continued to involve Lewandowski — who was a campaign manager for former President Donald Trump — in campaign decisions as a confidant and consultant. Several former Herbster campaign staffers confirmed Lewandowski’s continued involvement.

Another incident that made Thibodeau question Herbster’s treatment of women: She said Herbster told her to stay quiet during a Future Farmers of America meeting celebrating women in agriculture. She said she felt he often preferred women to be “seen and not heard.”

Misconduct is bipartisan

Political sexual misconduct is sadly bipartisan, said Allison Bitterman, a former campaign consultant for Democrats. She quit her role helping 2020 U.S. Senate candidate Chris Janicek, a Democrat, raise campaign funds after Janicek sent “sexually inappropriate” texts to her and other staffers.

Candidates, campaigns and major political parties could do more to protect victims of sexual harassment and assault by adopting policies that hold people accountable, she said.

State and local leaders could help, too, by extending Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protections to people working for businesses with fewer than 15 employees, she said.

“The reputation and character of these candidates behaving in this grotesque manner isn’t secretive,” Bitterman said. “The parties … continue to remain silent until this (bad behavior by candidates or staff) happens.”

Victims of sexual violence can contact the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence to access a statewide network of service providers online, or by phone at (402) 476-6256.


Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: info@nebraskaexaminer.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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