Kerrey reconsidering plans for Senate race

2012-02-28T11:00:00Z Kerrey reconsidering plans for Senate raceDon Walton/Lincoln Journal Star Fremont Tribune
February 28, 2012 11:00 am  • 

Bob Kerrey is reconsidering his earlier decision not to enter the 2012 Senate race and could make an announcement as early as Tuesday.

Kerrey is “reconsidering and re-evaluating” whether to be a candidate, Paul Johnson, his campaign manager in prior Senate races, said Monday.

“He’s not made a final decision, but he is seriously thinking about it,” Johnson said.

A Washington Post report Monday that Kerrey has changed his mind and already decided to enter Nebraska’s Senate contest was not accurate, Johnson said. The report apparently followed a Kerrey conversation with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

A startling 180-degree turnaround by Kerrey would be a game-changer in terms of immediately elevating Nebraska into a battleground state in the national struggle for control of the Senate.

A Kerrey decision to return to Nebraska to file for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat he held from 1989 to 2001, would assure the state will be awash in money, campaign resources and national attention as voters prepare to choose a successor to Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.

Twenty days ago, Kerrey announced he had decided not to be a candidate, citing family considerations while at the same time expressing an immediate regret that “it was something I really wanted to do.”

Kerrey and his wife, Sarah Paley, have a 10-year-old son, Henry.

Kerrey’s earlier decision not to run set the Democratic dominoes in motion, with a couple of other potential candidates falling out of the picture before University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons stepped forward to carry the Democratic banner.

Hassebrook withdrew his original filing as a candidate for re-election to the Board of Regents to enter the Senate race. It’s too late now for Hassebrook to change course since the filing deadline for incumbent officeholders has passed.

In a brief statement, Hassebrook did not hide his displeasure.

“I gave up my seat on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents based on his word,” Hassebrook said. “I do not believe he would go back on it.”

Hassebrook said Kerrey “told me as recently as a few days ago that he would assist my campaign.”

Kerrey faces a Thursday filing deadline for candidates other than incumbents.

Wasting no time, National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Rob Jesmer sought to frame Kerrey’s candidacy.

“Given how important this seat is for the liberal Democrat(ic) Party’s chances to hold their Senate majority, one wonders what type of backroom deal-making might have taken place between Kerrey and (Reid) in recent days,” Jesmer said.

“By every standard, Bob Kerrey is unequivocally more liberal than Ben Nelson and on some issues he’s even more liberal than Harry Reid.”

Kerrey would be the heavyweight in a duel for the Democratic nomination if Hassebrook remains in the race rather than return to his post as executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs. He recently took a leave-of-absence to mount his Senate campaign.

Waiting for the Democratic nominee will be the winner of a five-candidate scrap for the Republican nomination. Attorney General Jon Bruning is the frontrunner as measured in terms of polling and financial resources, with State Treasurer Don Stenberg and state Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine as his leading challengers.

Gov. Dave Heineman had been urged by national Republican leaders to enter the Senate race to provide the strongest possible counterweight to Kerrey. But the governor never indicated any interest in the Senate seat and the filing deadline for him was Feb. 15.

Political speculation was rampant Monday suggesting that Kerrey might have faked out Heineman by announcing he would not run before the deadline for the governor passed. But that theory would need to assume that Heineman might have filed purely as a pre-emptive move if Kerrey had not announced his intentions before the governor’s filing deadline.

Kerrey, who served one term as governor from 1983 to 1987, accepted the presidency of New School University in New York City in 2001 after completing his second term in the Senate. His name was last on the Nebraska ballot in 1994.

If he decides to run, Kerrey would be able to attract extensive national Democratic financial support and resources, and mount a campaign managed by Johnson, who has led successful Senate campaigns for both Kerrey and Nelson in Nebraska.

National Republicans could be expected to match or exceed those resources in an expensive battle for a swing Senate seat in a Republican state.

 

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