Ricketts expresses some interest in U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Sasse

‘I don’t know who else would be more qualified,’ says one state senator

By: - November 3, 2022 11:22 am

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks to President Donald Trump during a meeting on trade with governors and members of Congress at the White House on April 12, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Chris Kleponis – Pool/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts is expressing some interest, for the first time publicly, in being appointed to the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Ben Sasse, the political website Politico is reporting.

In a story posted Thursday by Politico, Ricketts expressed fondness for the Senate.

Senate ‘still relevant, important’

“It’s still very relevant and important,” Ricketts told Politico reporter Jordain Carney of the Senate.

The governor, who is barred from running for re-election this year due to term limits, acknowledged that a move from the Governor’s Office to the U.S. Capitol could require a “mind frame shift.”

At least one state senator is urging the two-term governor to go for it.

“I don’t know who else would be more qualified. I’d support him,” said State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, a longtime Ricketts supporter.

Linehan, a former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said that governors have the ideal background for service in Washington, given their knowledge of government.

Ricketts, 58, gave no indication publicly that he was interested in being appointed to the job after it became known a month ago that Sasse, a former president of Midland University in Fremont, was the sole finalist to become the next president at the University of Florida. Since then, Sasse’s appointment has been approved by the UF Board of Trustees.

Won’t appoint himself

Ricketts did make it clear that he would not be appointing himself to the vacancy — which was a possibility — but was instead letting the next governor make that choice, which is seen as less controversial.

Nebraska GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen recently hosted a press conference in Omaha with Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has endorsed and financially supported Pillen. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

The odds-on favorite to win the governor’s race is Columbus hog farmer and University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen. Ricketts has endorsed Pillen and contributed heavily to his campaign.

Ricketts, a member of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs and founded TD Ameritrade, has been interested in the U.S. Senate in the past. In 2006, in his first run for political office, he won the GOP primary before losing badly to incumbent U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat.

Likely to be appointed, if he wants it

But in 2014, Ricketts ran for governor and narrowly won the GOP primary over then Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, State Sen. Beau McCoy and State Auditor Mike Foley.

Ricketts cruised to victory that year, then won re-election in 2018. He is considered a shoo-in for the Senate appointment, if he wants it and if Pillen is elected.

The Politico story indicated that while Ricketts’ statement of interest was “weak,” it’s enough “to give national Republicans hope.”

“(Senator minority leader Sen. Mitch) McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the Senate GOP campaign arm, have been courting Ricketts as he plays coy about his interest in Sasse’s seat,” the website wrote.

McConnell, Politico added, has been unsuccessful in convincing other GOP governors to run for the Senate.

Ricketts’ interest in serving in the Senate is in stark contrast to his predecessor in the governor’s mansion. Former Gov. Dave Heineman turned down more than one opportunity to seek a Senate seat, saying he preferred his role as an executive over that of being among dozens of legislators.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.