“It’s still very relevant and important,” Ricketts said of the Senate, while admitting that a move of the governor’s office to Washington might require a “change of mindset.”
While that may seem like a weak statement of interest, it’s enough to give National Republicans hope. McConnell and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chairman of the Senate GOP campaign arm, wooed Ricketts as he plays coy about his interest in the Sasse seat.
If they succeed, it would break McConnell’s streak of failing to attract Republican governors to the Senate. If the GOP leader is successful in getting Ricketts to serve Sasse’s term through 2024, Ricketts, a decidedly mainstream Republican, could end up being chosen by the right.
Former President Donald Trump this year called Ricketts a “RINO,” or Republican in name only, as the two dueled GOP candidates vying to succeed Ricketts — and after Nebraskan said several times that Joe Biden had won the presidency.
A Republican lawmaker, who was granted anonymity to discuss the potential vacancy, said Ricketts was the “chance front-runner” for the potential nomination and had previously come under fire for hazing as a newcomer.
That lawmaker added that Ricketts might actually get broader Republican support than Sasse: “I think they’re probably both conservative, so when it comes to politics, they’re both pretty aligned.” But I believe Pete has a bigger picture – you know, he didn’t go directly against President Trump. Sasse did. There is a difference there.
If Nebraska’s next governor — expected to be Ricketts-endorsed Republican Jim Pillen — picks his predecessor for the seat, some within the state are already talking about how to challenge him from the right in 2024, when Nebraska would organize an election for the last two years of Sasse’s term. Matt Innis, who has raced against Sasse before, is one person being touted as a potential challenger.
“It wouldn’t be surprising if a potential Governor Pillen nominated Pete Ricketts. I think everyone knows that,” said Patrick Peterson, executive director of the Nebraska Freedom Coalition, a PAC that helped unseat former state leadership earlier this year.
However, Peterson added: “I can promise you” that would mean a main challenge from Ricketts in 2024.
This would not be Ricketts’ first Senate bid. He attempted to unseat Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson in 2006, with some campaign aides from McConnell. But he has built a profile both in the state and nationally since he was first elected governor in 2014 and re-elected in 2018. He could not run for a third consecutive term in office. under state law, but may run again in the future.
He’s also seen as incredibly close to Pillen, who is headed for victory barring a surprise upset next week, fueling the conventional wisdom that Ricketts will get the date if he wants it.
“I can’t imagine who it would be unless Ricketts himself retired from racing… [But] anything I hear about Ricketts, I’m sure he’s going to want it,” Saunders County GOP Chairman John Zaugg said when asked if there would be any other candidates running for office. nomination.
Sasse is stepping down and a potential Ricketts nomination wouldn’t be the only shake-up in Republican politics in Nebraska this year. The State Party has undergone a major overhaul, with then-chairman Dan Welch, seen as more aligned with Ricketts, being ousted and replaced by current chairman Eric Underwood.
Underwood and Nebraska GOP political director Todd Watson stressed in a joint interview that the replacement was not about Ricketts, but out of frustration over a desire for more local control within the party. They also pointed to the belief that former members of the party leadership tended to seek revenge against members for taking political positions they opposed.
“Was it against Ricketts? No. It was against a device that didn’t believe in people. Whether it’s specifically him or not is up to others to decide,” Underwood said.
Both Underwood and Watson indicated they would not get involved in appealing Sasse’s seat, noting that the nomination lay with the governor. Asked about possible approval in a 2024 race, they said it would be up to the state party’s central committee.
“We have no say in that,” Watson said of the nomination, adding, “The central committee will decide in two years, when the elections are held, who they want to back. And then we’ll run the decision of the central committee.