Prohibition was a major issue for Nebraska voters in 1886. While railroads, currency, and tariff reform were debated, the real political interest on the state level was the liquor question. According to historian Addison E. Sheldon in his Nebraska, The Land and the People, "There were two wings of the prohibition movement at this time. One was the Non-Partisan wing, which sought to secure prohibition by amendments to the state constitutions without the creation of a new political party. This wing was far more numerous than the second wing, which was composed of radical Prohibitionists who were supporting the Non-Partisan methods, but marching straight ahead to organize a political party strong enough to carry each state and the nation.
"In Nebraska, the Prohibition movement was rapidly growing. It held a most enthusiastic and well attended convention in Lincoln, August 19 [, 1886]. It adopted a strong platform for absolute prohibition, for woman suffrage, opposed fusion with any other political party, and expressed vigorous opinions upon all other leading public questions. Large sums of money were pledged for the prohibition campaign and for the New Republic [edited by A. G. Wolfenbarger of Lincoln], its party organ. The convention nominated for governor H. W. Hardy, who had been mayor of Lincoln ten years before, and adjourned with a rousing ratification meeting."
The election returns indicated the usual Republican majority. The vote tally for gubernatorial candidates: John M. Thayer (Republican), 75,956; J. E. North (Democrat), 52,656; H. W. Hardy (Prohibition), 8,175; and J. Burrows (National Union), 1,422. The greatest surprise of the election was the defeat of Republican Church Howe for congressman in the First District by Democrat John A. McShane of Omaha.
Another issue in 1886 concerned Republican Senator Charles H. Van Wyck. Although the Nebraska Legislature was due to elect his successor in the winter of 1887, it was hoped by Van Wyck's friends that a popular preference vote (as provided for in the state constitution of 1875) would influence the state senators. However, many voters did not vote upon this point, and the results of the preference vote were disappointing to Van Wyck supporters.