A Union Leader in Nebraska Tries to Leap to the Senate on Labor’s Strength

In 2021, as the first Halloween decorations were coming out in Omaha, Neb., a mechanic named Dan Osborn led 500 of his fellow union membersout of the Kellogg’s cereal plant on F Street and onto the picket lines.

The strike, which involved over 1,400 workers across multiple plants, would last for a difficult 77 days, through brutal storms and imported strikebreakers and the threat of summary dismissals, which drew the attention of President Biden. A first contract was soundly rejected by the union, then a second finally ended the walkout, just before Christmas.

Now Mr. Osborn, 48, is trying to do something considerably harder: win a United States Senate seat as an independent in the deep-red state of Nebraska.

Mr. Osborn’s long-shot bid to defeat Deb Fischer, Nebraska’s Republican senior senator, in November, or even come close, will test whether the rising power of an energized union movement can translate to high elective office during an election year when working class voters will likely decide the next president, and the direction of the country.

The rail unions of western Nebraska first approached him last year to mount a bid, and a December survey from a left-leaning group called Change Research put Mr. Osborn up on Ms. Fischer, at 40 percent over her 38 percent. It is a questionable result, as even Mr. Osborn’s supporters concede, but enough to capture imaginations in a one-party state that has long receded from the national political conversation.

With no Democrat in the race, the Nebraska Democratic Party is likely to endorse Mr. Osborn at a meeting on March 2, the party chairwoman, Jane Kleeb, said, though Mr. Osborn said he was not sure he wants that. The state A.F.L.-C.I.O. will back him at a gathering in late March, and national unions are taking a close look.

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