Herbster, Theobald mull U.S. Senate bids against Pete Ricketts

Fischer has no announced challengers yet
Nebraska’s rare double-feature of U.S. Senate races in 2024 already stars two Republican incumbents.
Published: Jun. 27, 2023 at 5:59 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) - Nebraska’s rare double-feature of U.S. Senate races in 2024 already stars two Republican incumbents, with U.S. Sens. Deb Fischer and Pete Ricketts having said they plan to run.

Two potential challengers confirmed to the Nebraska Examiner they are considering Senate bids after being asked about new filings this month with the Federal Election Commission and the international registry for website domain names.

Ricketts could face new challenges from left, right

Former gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster, a multi-state agribusinessman who lost the 2022 GOP primary race to Gov. Jim Pillen, had already acknowledged interest in a 2024 bid.

Paul Theobald, a potential Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. (Courtesy of Nebraska Democratic Party)

Now a Democrat has filed paperwork to raise money for a Senate run. He is Paul Theobald, a former Wayne State College dean of Education and Counseling and high school teacher.

“I am considering a run,” said Theobald, who lost a 2018 race to U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith in Nebraska’s sprawling, largely rural 3rd Congressional District. 

Theobald declined to discuss the potential bid Monday but said he would announce a decision in July. His family had run a hog farm in Pierce County and he still teaches college classes. 

Theobald reported raising and spending about $80,000 for his 2018 House bid against Smith, who reported raising $1.2 million. Theobald raised more than most 3rd District Democratic hopefuls. Last year, Democrat David Else didn’t report raising any money. 

Herbster had said in February he was exploring his options, and a Herbster political staffer said the bull breeder was thinking about challenging Ricketts — Pillen’s highest-profile supporter from 2022.

Website reservations

In early June, someone paid to reserve four potential website domain names, www.herbster4senate.com, www.herbsterforsenate.com, www.herbster4senator.com, and www.herbsterforsenator.com.

Facebook post by former gubernatorial candidate and Trump donor Charles Herbster. (Facebook)

Days later, Herbster posted on Facebook that he had been with former President Donald Trump for days and was about to attend “a series of meetings” in Washington, D.C.

Herbster spokesman Rod Edwards would neither confirm nor deny Monday whether Herbster or someone working on his behalf had reserved the web addresses for a Senate campaign.

“Charles is doing a lot of work to help President Trump win,” Edwards said. “As far as a run for Senate, no final decision has been made and that door is not closed at this point.”

Herbster is a top Trump donor, and Trump endorsed Herbster in the governor’s race. Herbster’s campaign consultants included Kellyanne Conway, David Bossie and Corey Lewandowski, who all have worked for Trump.

Ricketts’ parents, GOP mega-donors Joe and Marlene Ricketts, have given to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2024 bid. Pete Ricketts has not yet expressed a preference in the presidential race.

A Ricketts-Herbster race would pit the person who raised and self-funded the most money in any Nebraska state race — Herbster in his 2022 loss to Pillen — against the person who raised and self-funded the most in any Nebraska federal race — Ricketts, in his 2006 loss to then-U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.

Herbster blames Ricketts

Herbster has blamed Ricketts for some of the negative news stories that contributed to his loss, which Ricketts has denied. Ricketts, during a visit last week to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, declined to comment about any potential challengers.

“Who files against me is not something I can control, so I’m just going to focus on things I can control, which is making sure I do the best job I can,” Ricketts said.

The former governor said he knows he will have to earn the votes of Nebraskans after Pillen appointed him to Sen. Ben Sasse’s seat in January. Sasse quit to lead the University of Florida.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., talks with reporters after an event  June 19 in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Ricketts already faces one upstart GOP challenger in John Glen Weaver, a former 1st District candidate for the U.S. House who lost a challenge to freshly appointed Rep. Mike Flood last year. 

Weaver, who has been traveling the state trying to consolidate voters who want someone other than Ricketts, said he plans to stay in the Senate race no matter what Herbster does.

“If (Herbster) gets in, it looks like revenge,” Weaver told the Examiner on Monday. “If he wants revenge, he just needs to go live a happy life and raise cattle.”

Fischer waiting on challenger

Fischer, who was first elected to the Senate in 2012, has no announced challengers. During the delegation’s visit last week to UNL, she said she and her team had not yet heard who might step forward.

Nebraska Democrats have been actively recruiting candidates for both Senate races after receiving criticism in 2022 for leaving a handful of statewide offices without a filed challenger. The party’s central committee meets in Scottsbluff next month.



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