Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts denied speculation on Monday that he might challenge U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse in two years.

The governor also ruled out running for the office even if Sasse decides against seeking re-election in 2020.

“If I’m fortunate enough to be re-elected, I plan to be governor for the whole term,” Ricketts told reporters, adding later that he has the “best job in the world.”

The Republican governor is running for a second term in the state’s top office this year. If he wins, he would be barred by the Nebraska Constitution from seeking a third term in office.

His Democratic opponent is State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha.

Questions about Ricketts’ intentions arose after Politico reported that supporters of President Donald Trump were seeking a primary challenger for Sasse, a GOP senator who has been an outspoken critic of the president.

Sasse’s office gave no answers Monday in response to questions about whether he plans to run for a second six-year term. But there are indications that he’s gearing up for a re-election bid, including his recent hiring of a political staffer, according to Politico.

Earlier in the day, Nebraska’s junior senator blasted Trump for comments made during a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump cast blame on both the United States and Russia for the deterioration in the two countries’ relationship.

“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong,” Sasse said in a statement. “The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people, but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression.

“When the president plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”

At the end of May, Sasse berated the administration’s move to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe, Mexico and Canada.

“This is dumb,” he said in a press release. “Europe, Canada, and Mexico are not China, and you don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents. We’ve been down this road before — blanket protectionism is a big part of why America had a Great Depression. ‘Make America Great Again’ shouldn’t mean ‘Make America 1929 Again.’ ”

For his part, Ricketts has been a strong Trump supporter.

He has declined to criticize the president on trade issues, despite the anxiety that Trump’s tariffs have created among Nebraska farmers. Threats to agricultural exports, from tariffs to renegotiations of multilateral agreements, have sent grain prices plummeting.

On Monday, Ricketts praised the administration for being accessible to state officials. He noted that he has been to the White House three times and that several Cabinet members have visited the state.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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