SHELTON — Gov. Pete Ricketts reached out to Republican-rich rural Nebraska on Sunday, greeting 1,250 people who showed up for a steak fry on a farm west of Grand Island on a gorgeous October afternoon.
Three fellow governors joined Ricketts for the low-dollar campaign event, with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin delivering the core message.
"We're preaching to the choir," he acknowledged to the crowd at the outdoor event with tractors and grain bins lined up in the background and a huge U.S. flag waving in front of the blue sky.
"I'm here to get the choir to sing," Walker said.
Carry the message (for Ricketts), Walker said. "He's been a great governor of Nebraska," and he has earned re-election to a second term in 2018.
Govs. Matt Bevin of Kentucky and Eric Greitens of Missouri joined in the accolades.
Ricketts told the crowd gathered at Paul and Deb Gangwish's farm that he would continue to push for "more and better jobs that keep our kids here" while shaping a more efficient and effective state government and pushing for property and income tax reduction.
"We've reduced the growth of government by 90 percent" in his first three years, the governor said.
"And my commitment is to work for tax relief every year I am governor," he said.
Ricketts has focused on agriculture in trade missions overseas and in arguing for new bilateral trade agreements, particularly with Japan, in the face of President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and his ongoing threats to walk away from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
And, the governor stressed, his comprehensive tax relief package now stalled in the Legislature includes property tax reduction for agriculture, along with his proposals for income tax cuts.
Property taxes are an urgent concern in rural Nebraska, especially at a time of low agricultural commodity prices, and conceivably could be the spur for what now is becoming an increasingly unlikely primary challenge for the governor next May.
Rural Nebraska and the small towns west of Lincoln and Omaha can command a statewide Republican primary election. So rather than attempt to confront Ricketts in the GOP primary, state Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha has changed his party registration from Republican to nonpartisan and is planning to mount a third-party challenge to the governor in next year's general election in November.
Nebraska Democrats have not yet fielded a gubernatorial candidate.
Sunday's event unfolded in a Norman Rockwell setting along the Platte River valley between Grand Island and Kearney, with agriculture on full display and four governors on hand all clad in blue jeans.
Walker, a conservative political hero and former presidential candidate, was a star attraction. A long line formed to greet him as the event concluded, seeking handshakes and selfies.
"I won't even talk about last night's game," he quickly assured the audience during his brief remarks. "I'm too smart to talk about that."
Walker was at Memorial Stadium when Wisconsin dominated the Huskers in the second half of Saturday's football game, winning 38-17.
Bevin, the Kentucky governor, reminded the crowd that Ricketts is "a guy who doesn't need this job."
"The seeds that Pete Ricketts is putting in the ground" in terms of economic development and fiscal policy "take a while to grow," Bevin said.
Greitens, the Missouri governor, said Ricketts is "here to fight for Nebraska families (and) he is proud to stand up for strong conservative values."
The event featured numerous salutes to patriotism and the U.S. military, with Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, bringing the crowd to its feet when he said "We are proud to stand up for the flag of the United States."
Rep. Don Bacon of the 2nd District and 13 members of the nonpartisan Legislature also attended the event.