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OMAHA | A woman who grew up in Akron, Iowa, and graduated with a writing degree from Briar Cliff University is running as an underdog in the 2018 Nebraska governor contest.

Krystal Gabel, of Omaha, is running to deny Gov. Pete Ricketts the Republican Party nomination in May. Ricketts, a former prominent businessman, is seeking his second, four-year term.

Gabel took only three years to earn her diploma at Akron-Westfield High School in 2002, and then completed her Briar Cliff degree in just three years.

"I was pretty ambitious," Gabel said.

It also takes ambition to oppose an incumbent governor with $1.4 million in campaign cash on hand as of Dec. 31 and the state's Republican hierarchy solidly behind him. Gabel said she's spent less than $5,000 on her campaign to meet an estimated 15,000 people face to face, often by standing on busy corners and inviting people to talk politics and the 2018 race.

"I am trying very hard to have a shoestring budget, to show we don't have to have so much money in politics," she said.

Gabel announced her candidacy in July 2017.  With the filing deadline in Nebraska passed on Thursday, Gabel and Ricketts will be the only gubernatorial candidates on the GOP ballot on May 15.

Gabel, 33, said she's toured Nebraska for a almost a year and, from conversations with rank-and-file Republicans, concluded that Ricketts "is not well-liked" by many GOP voters.

"Republican voters deserve to have choice on their ballots, especially for the primary," she said.

Running as an independent, she unsuccessfully sought an Omaha City Council seat in 2017. Gabel said she thought of running for governor as an independent, but said the state's political system makes it easier for Republican and Democratic candidates, as it would have taken more than 100,000 petition signatures to qualify for the ballot as a no-party candidate.

Therefore, Gabel became a Republican, since she said that party dominates politics in Nebraska.

"Whoever wins the Republican primary will win the general election," she said.

Gabel said the Republican Party is also a good fit for her fiscal conservatism.

A daughter of Rick and Sue Gabel of Akron, she is a freelance writer and editor, and a volunteer for Legal Marijuana Now, an organization established in 1998 to oppose the drug's prohibition.

Gabel said boosting the state's sluggish agriculture economy is one of her chief campaign issues. She said one way to do that would be for farmers to be allowed to raise industrial hemp for commercial purposes. That's not possible under current state law.

"If they grow industrial hemp, they can make $10,000 or more per acre," Gabel said.

She added that other key issues include lowering Nebraska taxes, putting more people in the workforce and funding education more fully than in recent years.

Gabel said she plans to bring her campaign tour to at least 15 cities in March and April.

"You need to be accessible to people," she said.


County and education reporter

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