Shock Poll Shows Independent Nebraska Union Leader Beating Republican Senator

With Senate control hanging in the balance, Nebraska Democrats are considering backing Dan Osborn in his challenge against Republican Sen. Deb Fischer.

WASHINGTON, US - AUGUST 2: A view of the US Senate office as the US Capitol Police (USCP) clear office buildings after a report of an active shooter in Washington, US on August 2, 2023. (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A view of the U.S. Senate office in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 2, 2023. Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A Nebraska labor leader running for the U.S. Senate as an independent could best the Republican incumbent, according to a recent poll of voters in the Cornhusker State.

Dan Osborn, a 48-year-old military veteran who helped lead the 2021 strikes against food giant Kellogg’s, launched a challenge against 72-year-old Nebraska Republican Sen. Deb Fischer in October. A poll commissioned by Change Research, a liberal research firm, shows Osborn leading Fischer by a margin of 2 points. Nebraska has voted for a Republican president every year since 1964, and the survey, conducted in November, shows that respondents favor former President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden by a margin of 16.

Osborn’s slight edge in the poll — 40 percent to Fischer’s 38 percent — comes despite 59 percent of respondents saying they had never heard of him before. Fischer, meanwhile, has represented Nebraska in the Senate for a decade and sits on the influential Armed Services and Agricultural committees. In response to a question that described both Osborn’s and Fischer’s backgrounds, 50 percent of respondents said they’d vote for Osborn, while only 32 percent said they’d vote for Fischer.

“Nebraskans have had it with Washington. We’ve been starving for honest government that isn’t bought and paid for,” Osborn told The Intercept. “This poll shows that Nebraska’s independent streak is alive and well.”

Democrats have so far not fielded a candidate in the Senate race. In October, shortly after Osborn’s announcement, Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said state Democrats were considering supporting his bid. Kleeb told The Intercept that the state party would make an endorsement decision in February and that Osborn could win if “the money is there.”

He could appeal to populists and progressives, Kleeb said, with many Nebraska voters tired of one-party control in the state. “Makes politicians lazy when you have only one party in control and more beholden to corporate interests since they don’t have to answer to voters,” she wrote.

Osborn’s candidacy comes as Democrats face a challenging battle next year to retain their razor-thin Senate majority. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has announced that he will not run for reelection, all but guaranteeing a Republican pickup in West Virginia, while Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are vying to defend seats in states Trump won in 2020. 

Democrats are also defending seats in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Arizona (where Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego seeks to beat Kyrsten Sinema, who recently changed her party affiliation from Democrat to independent, and Republican Kari Lake in a three-way race), while Republicans are playing in defense in Florida and Texas, where they have had strong showings in recent statewide elections.

Osborn has focused his campaign on labor and economic issues and the cross-partisan coalition he aims to build. “I will bring together workers, farmers, ranchers, and small business owners across Nebraska around bread-and-butter issues that appeal across party lines,” he pledged when he announced his candidacy.

His platform spans from raising pay for servicemembers and taking on agricultural consolidation to legalizing medical marijuana and pledging to “never supporting handing huge pharmaceuticals a blank check.” The independent also calls to reform railroad safety, with measures like requiring two-person crews and increasing fines for violating rail safety laws — mirroring some of the reforms that were floated after the disastrous Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, earlier this year.

Osborn’s platform appears to be popular among would-be voters in Nebraska. Pollsters asked a series of questions regarding his policy platform, after which 53 percent of respondents said they’d vote for him, compared to 30 percent for Fisher. Thirty-three percent of poll respondents were Democrats, 14 percent independent, and 53 percent Republican; 53 percent said they voted for Trump in 2020, while 35 percent said they voted for Biden.

“This poll shows that Nebraska’s independent streak is alive and well.”

Osborn has served as the president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 50G and garnered national attention two years ago when he helped lead workers in a strike against Kellogg’s that lasted more than two months and also included factories in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

“It’s exciting to be a part of something bigger than yourself, knowing that we’re not alone,” the 18-year Kellogg’s veteran said at the time. 

In his campaign launch video, Osborn spoke about the strike. “Two years ago, I successfully led the strike to preserve 500 middle-class jobs here in Nebraska,” he said. “It didn’t matter what party you belonged to. We came together to find solutions and move forward.”

During the strike, the company had threatened to replace all 1,400 workers. At its conclusion, workers won an agreement that included a $1.10 per hour raise, a new cost-of-living pay increase, and a pathway for lower-tier workers to “graduate” into a higher tier of pay.

As an independent, Osborn has no party structure to tap into for campaigning or fundraising. As of September 30, Fischer had $2.6 million on hand; Osborn announced raising $100,000 in two months as of November 16.

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