U.S. Capitol (Lynne Terry/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
OMAHA — The race to be appointed as Nebraska’s next U.S. senator is getting serious, with Gov. Jim Pillen interviewing candidates and mulling an appointment as early as this week.
Pillen, a Republican, said Thursday he would name a replacement by the end of January for former U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. Sasse formally resigned his post Sunday to lead the University of Florida.
Republican leaders nationally, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have let Pillen’s people know they would like someone in place sooner, two well-placed sources said. The Senate is out of session until Jan. 23.
The Senate GOP is staring at a 51-48 disadvantage until Sasse is replaced, requiring the party to persuade more Democrats and political independents to cross the aisle on big votes.
Most political observers expect Pillen to pick his top political patron, former Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has confirmed he has an interview scheduled with Pillen.
McConnell has said he would like to see Ricketts in the Senate. GOP insiders attending Pillen’s inaugural ball on Saturday were abuzz about which staffers Ricketts might take with him to Washington.
The Governor’s Office said Monday it had nothing new on a Senate appointment timeline. The office has declined to release applicants’ names until after Pillen makes his pick.
Some of the best-known among those who have applied in addition to Ricketts, based on Nebraska Examiner reporting:
- Former State Sen. Brett Lindstrom. He finished third in last year’s GOP primary race for governor.
- Pinnacle Bank Chairman Sid Dinsdale, who ran for the Senate seat in 2014 but lost the GOP primary to Sasse.
- Bryan Slone, the president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He is a former GOP gubernatorial candidate. Slone recently re-registered as a nonpartisan.
- Greg Ibach, a former longtime director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. His wife, Teresa, won election to the Legislature in November.
- John Glen Weaver, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the 1st District House GOP nomination. Weaver finished third behind U.S. Rep. Mike Flood and former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.
- Ann Ashford of Omaha, an attorney and former U.S. House candidate in the 2nd District. A Democrat, she is the widow of former Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb.
- Melanie Standiford of Curtis, a Republican and former news director at North Platte-based KNOP-TV. She told KRVN she is developing a news website.
- Tom Becka of Omaha, a registered nonpartisan and longtime radio and TV personality. He does reporting and commentary for KPTM-TV and confirmed Tuesday that he applied.
U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said he did not apply but said someone, as a joke or perhaps seriously, applied on his behalf. He said he told Pillen’s staffers he hadn’t applied. No other members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation did, either.
Pillen has said he intends to appoint a senator who reflects the state’s conservative values. He has not yet detailed what that means.
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