Son of GOP Mega-Donor on Track to Become Nebraska’s Next Governor

The Ricketts’ family wealth attracted outsize attention to the governor’s race from 2016 Republican presidential contenders.

Nebraska Republican gubernatorial nominee Pete Ricketts
National Journal
Karyn Bruggeman
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Karyn Bruggeman
May 14, 2014, 2:53 a.m.

Omaha busi­ness­man Pete Rick­etts nar­rowly won Neb­raska’s Re­pub­lic­an gubernat­ori­al primary Tues­day night, put­ting him on track to be­come the Cornhusk­er State’s next chief ex­ec­ut­ive.

Rick­etts won 26 per­cent of the vote, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press, which called the race early Wed­nes­day morn­ing, with state At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Jon Brun­ing close be­hind with 25 per­cent in the win­ner-take-all con­test. State le­gis­lat­or Beau Mc­Coy trailed with 21 per­cent and state Aud­it­or Mike Fo­ley had 19 per­cent, while two oth­er can­did­ates split the re­mainder of the GOP vote.

With that, Rick­etts cleared the biggest hurdle between him and the gov­ernor­ship by just over 2,000 votes. Neb­raska has not elec­ted a Demo­crat to its highest of­fice since 1994. Rick­etts will face Demo­crat Chuck Hassebrook, who ran un­con­tested in the Demo­crat­ic primary, in the gen­er­al elec­tion.

Tues­day’s win of­fers a shot at polit­ic­al re­demp­tion for Rick­etts, the former TD Amer­it­rade ex­ec­ut­ive who lost the state’s 2006 Sen­ate race to Demo­crat Ben Nel­son by 29 per­cent­age points. It’s also the second time in two years that the Rick­etts fam­ily has de­railed Brun­ing’s polit­ic­al am­bi­tions. Brun­ing ran for Neb­raska’s open U.S. Sen­ate seat in 2012, but a wave of at­tack ads from out­side groups — in­clud­ing one es­tab­lished and fun­ded by Rick­etts’s fath­er — helped sink Brun­ing’s can­did­acy.

That same fam­ily wealth at­trac­ted out­size at­ten­tion to the gov­ernor’s race from 2016 Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial con­tenders. The young­er Rick­etts was en­dorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er, In­di­ana Gov. Mike Pence, and 2012 vice pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee Paul Ry­an. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Pal­in and former Vice Pres­id­ent (and Neb­raska nat­ive) Dick Cheney also en­dorsed Rick­etts.

Brun­ing’s late entry to the race in Feb­ru­ary put two heavy­weights in the gubernat­ori­al con­test, and polls showed him and Rick­etts run­ning neck-and-neck head­ing in­to the fi­nal days of the primary. Rick­etts be­nefited from a cash ad­vant­age that al­lowed him to blanket the air­waves with TV ads, and he got a boost from a hand­ful of out­side groups that ran TV ads at­tack­ing Brun­ing. The primary marked the first time such groups have made a ma­jor play in a Neb­raska gov­ernor’s race, and Brun­ing blamed Rick­etts for their in­volve­ment.

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