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Nebraska Gov. Pillen appoints Pete Ricketts to Sasse’s Senate seat

<i>Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images</i><br/>Pete Ricketts
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Pete Ricketts

By Eric Bradner, CNN

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen on Thursday said he is appointing former Gov. Pete Ricketts to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Republican Ben Sasse‘s resignation.

Ricketts, a Republican who completed his second term as governor earlier this month, will hold the seat until a special election in 2024. The seat will then be on Nebraska’s ballot again in 2026 for a full six-year term.

Pillen and Ricketts appeared together at a joint news conference at the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, where Pillen described the selection of Ricketts as “very, very obvious.”

Sasse officially resigned on Sunday to become the president of the University of Florida, a job he will begin next month.

Ricketts’ support in last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary helped Pillen emerge at the top of a packed GOP field. Pillen took office last week.

He said Ricketts was “committed to the long haul” to attempting to keep the seat.

“I don’t believe in placeholders. I believe that every day matters,” said Pillen, who noted that his office interviewed nine potential successors to Sasse before settling on Ricketts.

Ricketts said he is “committed to running in ’24 and ’26.”

He won both his 2014 and 2018 governor’s races by 18 points. Pillen pointed to Ricketts’ ability to win elections as key to the former governor’s selection for an office he’d have to seek reelection to two consecutive cycles.

Nebraska is a heavily Republican state. Former President Donald Trump carried it by 19 points in 2020. The state has not had a Democratic senator since former Sen. Ben Nelson opted against seeking reelection in 2012.

Ricketts ran for the Senate once before — in 2006, when he was trounced by Nelson, a popular former governor himself.

Republican Deb Fischer, Nebraska’s senior senator, said at the state Capitol on Thursday that Ricketts is “going to have a very quick learning ability here as he moves from state issues to federal issues.”

Ricketts said he expects to share “a lot of similarities” with Sasse’s conservative positions, including on judicial nominations, national defense and the United States’ approach to China.

“I do think it’s important that we have (those) same conservative values and philosophies coming to DC,” Ricketts said.

He said his former chief of staff in the governor’s office, Matt Miltenberger, will help him recruit a Washington staff.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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