Ricketts, Fischer look to retain U.S. Senate seats without state GOP endorsement

8 de Mayo de 2024 a las 06:00 ·

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Incumbent Republicans Pete Ricketts and Deb Fischer are each running to retain their U.S. Senate seats, but neither received endorsements from the Nebraska GOP ahead of next week's primary. (Photo by Grant Gerlock/Nebraska Public Media News)

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Nebraskans will have the opportunity to elect two U.S. senators in this year’s election cycle, something that hasn’t happened in the state since 1954.

In addition to Sen. Deb Fischer’s six-year seat, a special election for Sen. Pete Ricketts’ seat is also on this year’s ballot.

Nebraska is the only state with both Senate seats up for election this year thanks to former Sen. Ben Sasse’s October 2022 resignation to become the President of the University of Florida.

Gov. Jim Pillen appointed Ricketts to serve as Senator until the next special election could be held this year.

Ricketts will face Republican challengers John Glen Weaver and Mac Stevens in next week’s primary for the remaining two-year term.

Ricketts holds a significant advantage in campaign funds, but John Glen Weaver has the endorsement of the Nebraska Republican Party and more than a dozen county GOPs.

None of the five current Congressional Republicans in Nebraska received endorsements from the state party for the May primary election.

University of Nebraska political science professor Kevin Smith said the state GOP not endorsing an incumbent is rare.

“It's not unprecedented for state parties to withhold their endorsement of incumbents, but it's usually because that incumbent has done something like made some very high-profile break with the party line or become embroiled in some sort of scandal or criminal probe,” he said.

Smith said Ricketts and Fischer are each strong conservatives and neither are in the midst of any high-profile investigations.

Instead, Smith views their split with the state GOP as a stylistic distinction between the populist, pro-Trump wing of the Republican party and the D.C. establishment.

Nebraska GOP Chair Eric Underwood said the incumbents were not endorsed because they did not build strong enough relationships with members of the state party.

Underwood said endorsements of Weaver and other NEGOP challengers do not mean that incumbents could not also receive endorsements from the state party at its August meeting.

“We could endorse multiple people because our job isn't to pick and choose the winners,” he said. “Our job is to say these individuals have met a level of interaction with the party.”

Underwood said he is not concerned about the Nebraska GOP’s relevance if the state party-endorsed candidates do not win.

Instead, he said increased turnout at GOP conventions better reflects the success of the party.

“There's a stability within the party that is of greater relevance to the constitutional objectives than whether or not an incumbent wins,” Underwood said.

Weaver told Nebraska Public Media that he chose to run against Ricketts, despite the shorter term, because Ricketts was appointed and not elected.

“This is not about me securing something for six years, so I don’t have to campaign again,” he said. “But I’m basically doing it because it’s an open seat.”

Weaver said his NEGOP endorsement reflects his support from everyday people instead of the consultant and donor class.

“An endorsement from the NEGOP means that the people support me and as I travel the state, I'm looking for the people's endorsement,” Weaver said. “Quite honestly, that's really the only support I'm looking for.”

Ricketts has the endorsement of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and a majority of state senators in Nebraska legislature.

On his campaign website, Ricketts touts his role in responding to COVID-19 and signing a bill to lower property taxes as Nebraska governor.

Stevens, a nutritionist from the Nebraska Panhandle, describes himself on his campaign website as having MACA values, representing manufacturing, agriculture, church and America.

Preston Love Jr. from North Omaha is the only registered Democrat in the race.

In a January speech launching his campaign, he compared himself to David running against Goliath.

“I come to you to say that I’ve compelled myself to fight the fight, to represent the people that I’ve been serving against a giant,” Love said. “Of course I’m an underdog, who cares about that? I’m an underdog just like David.”

He will face the winner of Ricketts, Weaver and Stevens in the fall.

Nebraska Democratic Party Executive Director Precious McKesson said the division in the state Republican Party could help Democrats.

“It is a very big opportunity for us,” she said. “But I mean, right now, our focus is to make sure that Nebraskans know what we stand for, what we stand to do when we're in office, and we just keep moving. We can't worry about what they got going on. We just keep pushing and keep fighting the good fight.”

In the race for the six-year term, Fischer will face Arron Kowalski in the primary, a rancher from Grand Island.

According to Kowalski’s campaign website, he intends to work to revitalize rural communities through a 21st Century Homestead Act.

Neither Fischer nor Kowalski have been endorsed by the state Republican Party, but Fischer does have the endorsement of the Nebraska’s governor, congressmen, and 32 state senators.

Fischer’s campaign website highlights her emphasis on improving infrastructure and reining in spending through her role on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

There is no Democrat in the race, which Kevin Smith said reflects the difficulty for the party in Nebraska’s statewide elections.

“It takes a pretty brave and tough soul to try and mount a serious statewide electoral campaign as a Democratic candidate these days,” he said.

Labor union leader Dan Osborn is an independent candidate who received enough signatures to appear on the ballot in November against the winner of Fischer and Kowalski.

“I don't have that political machine behind me with a list of tried-and-true donors, but to date we’re over $800,000 raised,” Osborn told Nebraska Public Media. “I think that just goes to show you that people can really start taking independents seriously.”

Osborn said one of the strengths of his independent campaign is that he isn’t beholden to corporate interests, enabling him to build policy from scratch.

“When we draft a policy, it's not based off of my belief,” he said. “It's based off of boots on the ground, it's people who live that life.”

McKesson said Nebraska Democrats are planning to endorse Osborn after the primary elections.

“We did not field a candidate against Fischer because we believe in Dan Osborn bringing together a cross-partisan coalition of voters to end the one-party rule,” she said.

Legal Marijuana NOW party candidates Kenneth Peterson and Kerry Eddy have also filed to run for Fischer’s seat.

The primary election will be May 14 and early voting is already underway.