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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts held the fifth annual Nebraska Steak Fry Sunday afternoon to celebrate Nebraska’s biggest industry – agriculture.

The event, which always includes leadership from outside the state, welcomed several Republican leaders who have gained national traction in recent years.

Governor Ricketts was joined by former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Hundreds of republicans from across the state joined the leaders at Nebraska City’s Arbor Lodge State Historical Park for the opportunity to listen to the message from some of the loudest GOP leaders.

“As you all know, agriculture is what we do here, it’s the heart and soul of our state,” Ricketts said as he began the event. “It drives our economy, about 20% of our economy, and about one in four jobs is tied back to agriculture.”

DeSantis, Cruz, and Pence all touched on Nebraska’s accomplishments, too.

“It’s amazing to think over the last seven years here in Nebraska, lowest unemployment in the country, stood strong on conservative principles, stood for jobs in the city and on the farm, Governor Ricketts, you have made Nebraska and America proud.”

Along with recognizing the booming agriculture business of Nebraska throughout the pandemic, and celebrating the Ricketts’ decision not to implement state-wide mask and vaccine mandates, the Republican leaders criticized the Biden administration, namely the handling of the pullout of Afghanistan and Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal workers.

“It is a stain on our nation, we don’t leave Americans and allies behind and yet that’s what this admin has done,” Governor Ricketts said.

“If he spent a little less time talking about Florida, and more time doing his job as Commander in Chief, we might not have 13 services members who were killed in action in Afghanistan because of his ineptitude and dereliction of duty,” Governor DeSantis said.

“Do you know why this vaccine mandate happened this week?” Senator Cruz asked. “Because they wanted to change the subject from Afghanistan.”

Among other topics discussed in depth by leaders was the crisis on the southern border.

“If you wanted to get back from Afghanistan as an American you had a lot of trouble with that, but you come across the southern border here illegally, they’ll put you on a plane and fly you wherever you want,” DeSantis stated.

Governor Ricketts also celebrated Texas’ new near-ban on abortion, which was passed earlier this month, and didn’t shy away from Nebraska’s proposed sex education standards which have now been tabled at the state Board of Education.

Outside of what seemed more like a political rally than a salute to agriculture, a handful of Nebraska Democrats mocked the Republican leaders.

“Pete Ricketts is becoming an expert on creating super-spreader events that not only spread COVID but reckless rhetoric that creates division across the state,” said Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb in a statement to 6 News.

“Ricketts won’t even make public the COVID data for all but a handful of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Our ICUs are nearly full. Instead of addressing this public health crisis, that doctors and nurses are pleading with him to take seriously, he is throwing a party.”

At the end of the day, the goal Republicans wanted to share was very clear.

“I believe 2022 is going to be an amazing election,” said Senator Cruz.

“Nebraska, it’s time to say enough is enough, it’s time to decide right and here right now that we’re going to win back the Congress in 2022 and were going to win back America in 2024,″ Pence said.

Many of those who attended the event tell 6 News they felt energized by what Governor Ricketts and the other speakers had to say.

“I appreciate everything the governor is doing in the state of Nebraska, he’s doing an amazing job, and the three speakers today reiterated everything we need to do as a country to stand up for our freedoms,” says Wahoo native Barbara Hart.

“So grateful I was able to come and hear their message and I think the future can possibly be very bright in spite of a lot of challenges in our nation right now, I feel like there can be unity, there can be positivity and we can get stronger from all the adversity,” says Omahan Susie Prucha.

Attendees also tell 6 News say they’re hopeful Governor Ricketts will consider running for another political position, either in the state or in a national capacity.

Although it has been a suspected topic in recent months, Ricketts has denied the idea of another political position and says his focus remains on finishing his final term as Nebraska’s governor.

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