“There has never been a Nebraska that has had to run for a statewide election for two consecutive terms…it’s an extraordinarily rigorous challenge,” Pillen said. «I don’t believe in placeholders.»
Sasse resigned this month to become president of the University of Florida, creating the vacancy. He had distinguished himself by his criticism of former President Donald Trump, whom Sasse ultimately voted to convict in his impeachment trial, but the late senator also focused much of his energy on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
Ricketts said he «can’t think of specific issues» that he and Sasse disagree on, adding that he hopes it will be a reliably conservative vote and that he will continue to focus on appointing right-wing judges.
Both Pillen and Ricketts dismissed questions about backroom deals when it came to filling the seat. Ricketts was a major backer of Pillen’s campaign, raising some questions in the state about how to fill the vacancy. Sasse did not resign until after Pillen was sworn in, allowing Ricketts to fill the position without having to nominate himself.
Pillen said backroom deals are «not my DNA.»
“I have no concerns about the process,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the state’s senior senator.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated last year that he wanted Ricketts to fill the vacancy left by Sasse. He said Thursday that Fischer and Ricketts «will instantly form an extremely effective double for Nebraska in the Senate» and praised Ricketts for his governing record and for winning gubernatorial races «by a gigantic margin.»
Pillen said he interviewed nine candidates for the job and none were Democrats. Nebraska is now a credible Republican state, and Democrats haven’t won a Senate race there since 2006.
However, Pillen suggested that he did not want to take any chances by appointing a senator who could blow the seat in a primary or general election. He said Ricketts’ political experience «was a big divider» in the interview process; It also doesn’t hurt that Ricketts is personally wealthy, with the ability to self-finance should he face a major challenge.
Ricketts said he would pass up any other opportunities that present themselves in the next 10 years as he shifts his focus to federal office.
“One of the things that we as Republicans need to win the election is to have a big tent,” Ricketts said. “I am committed to running on the 24th and 26th to serve the people of Nebraska.”
Republican Senatorial National Committee Chairman Steve Daines of Montana said he looks forward to «working with Pete to stop Joe Biden’s damaging agenda and keep Nebraska red in 2024.»