Where Will the Millionaire Cattle Rancher Run in Nebraska?

by Nathan L. Gonzales June 10, 2013 · 9:21 AM EDT

A cattle rancher and a university president get into a Senate race. Sounds like the opening of a bad joke, but it could describe the new political terrain in Nebraska.

Now that GOP Gov. Dave Heineman has declined to run to replace retiring Sen. Mike Johanns, a handful of Republicans are weighing their options for a seat that should stay in GOP hands. Former state Treasurer Shane Osborn didn’t waste any time announcing his candidacy, but he won’t have the field all to himself. Wealthy former state party chairman/2006 nominee Pete Ricketts will apparently decide on a bid within the next month.

According to Leavenworth Street, a conservative blog in Nebraska, millionaire cattle rancher Charles Herbster is a potential candidate for Senate or governor. Herbster owns Herbster Angus Farms and Conklin, and has personal money and inroads in the evangelical Christian community that could boost his candidacy (via Nebraska Politics in Stereo).

But it looks like Herbster is leaning more toward a gubernatorial bid, according to local sources; Heineman isn’t running again because of term limits.

Meanwhile, Midland University President Ben Sasse is considered a likely Senate candidate and is currently on a listening tour. Leavenworth Street profiled Sasse and a potential Senate run back in February:

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services during the last 2 years of the George W. Bush Administration, and current President of Fremont’s Midland University, Dr. (Ph.D.) Ben Sasse. THAT’s who.

Sasse is a 40 year old graduate of Harvard University, studied at Oxford, has a master’s degree from St. John’s University, and doctorate from Yale University. (Though we are fairly sure the Scott Kleeb comparisons end there.)

Sasse became the 15th President of Midland in 2009. Before that, as noted, he was unanimously confirmed by the Democratic Senate to the fourth-ranking position in the government’s largest-budget agency, where Sasse led policy, planning, and research functions across the department’s 11 operating divisions, with a special focus on Medicare, Medicaid, and the Food and Drug Administration.

Sasse could be a serious Senate candidate. He’s a former chief of staff to Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who announced he wouldn’t run, and is very close to former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. According to Republican sources, the two families are very close and Leavitt is likely to help Sasse raise money — at a minimum.

According to GOP sources, it appears at least two statewide polls have been conducted recently, which is likely a sign that candidates are testing the waters.

Rothenberg Political Report rates the race as Currently Safe Republican.