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Nebraska governor gives predecessor Pete Ricketts a Senate seat he lost by 28 points 17 years earlier

New Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen (R) on Thursday appointed his predecessor, former Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), to the Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) on Jan. 8 when he resigned to become the new president of the University of Florida. Pillen said he had interviewed nine Republicans for the vacancy, and chose Ricketts because he believes he will win a special election for the seat in the fall and a full term in 2026. "I don't believe in placeholders," Pillen said.  

The appointment is unsurprising because "Ricketts is the most established figure in the Nebraska GOP and supported Pillen as his successor to the governor's mansion," Aaron Blake writes at The Washington Post. "But the argument about Ricketts's political strength would have seemed utterly crazy less than two decades ago," when Ricketts lost a challenge to then-Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), 64 percent to 36 percent.

"Ricketts spent roughly $14 million of his own fortune on the 28-point loss," Blake notes. "As a Republican in Nebraska. And against a first-term senator who had only narrowly won office six years earlier. It's one of the biggest losses on record for a candidate who would later join the Senate." Ricketts, a wealthy son of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and part owner of the Chicago Cubs, will be the favorite to win the seat in his own right in November. 

"Ricketts was a top backer of Pillen's campaign," and "Sasse did not resign until after Pillen was sworn in, allowing Ricketts to fill the seat without having to self-appoint himself," Politico reports. But "both Pillen and Ricketts brushed off questions about backroom deals when it came to filling the seat." Pillen may have put his thumb on the scale for the upcoming Senate races, but backroom deals are "not my DNA," he said Thursday.