Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson meets with U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., on March 03, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
OMAHA — Jim Pillen, the GOP gubernatorial candidate Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts wants to succeed him, declined Wednesday to speculate about his choice for Nebraska’s next senator if Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse resigns to lead the University of Florida.
Pillen, a University of Nebraska regent and Columbus-area hog producer, told a noon gathering of more than 40 people at the Rotary Club of Omaha it was too soon to think about a Senate seat that’s still occupied.
“There’s still a lot of water to run down the river,” Pillen said, responding to a question from the crowd. “I’m in the commodity business. The only thing I’ve ever speculated on is July hogs, and a lot of times I have not done very good there.”
Reporters followed up after the meeting to ask about about the possible Senate appointment, but Pillen said he is focused on running his own race. He said he wouldn’t discuss what-ifs about a U.S. Senate seat that the next governor might be able to fill in January.
“I just don’t do that,” Pillen said. “That’s not how our world works.”
State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, Pillen’s Democratic opponent this November, said Wednesday that she would “appoint somebody who is nonpartisan by nature” and who would commit to not running when the seat is up for election in 2024.
“If we appoint somebody who’s running in two years, they’ll be trying to get re-elected,” Blood said. “I’d want somebody who was going to be there, be present and give Nebraskans the option of whom they want to vote for in two years.”
Sasse is the lone finalist for the presidency at Florida. Hundreds of student protesters disrupted his meetings with students and staff on Monday. He will return for a final interview with the UF Board of Trustees on Nov. 1.
People close to Sasse have confirmed that he would accept the job if offered and would resign his seat in late November or December. The timing matters because Nebraska law requires the governor to fill an open U.S. Senate seat within 45 days of a vacancy.
If Sasse left in early or mid-November, or if Blood were to win her bid, Ricketts would make the appointment. He could, under the law, appoint himself, although the election record of governors who have done so nationally is dismal.
If Pillen wins election and makes the pick, local political observers consider Ricketts an early favorite for the Senate seat in 2024.
Ricketts has endorsed Pillen in his run for governor. Ricketts and his family also have spent more than $2 million supporting Pillen and attacking his opponents, including $1.275 million that Ricketts gave to an outside group, Conservative Nebraska.
That group ran ads in the May GOP primary campaign against Pillen’s top GOP opponents, agribusinessman Charles Herbster and State Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha, campaign finance records show.
Another $261,000 in outside money was donated to a dark money group that was spent similarly on the race, but that group does not have to report its donors.
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