Kerrey reconsidering Nebraska Senate bid

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) is reconsidering a bid for a Nebraska Senate seat, a move that could help Democrats retain control of the upper chamber.

Officials in Nebraska told The Hill that Kerrey is rethinking his position on the race but hadn’t made a final decision. The filing deadline is Thursday. 

After being heavily courted by Democrats who saw him as their best chance to hold on to retiring Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D) seat, Kerrey announced earlier in February that he would not run. 

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That left Democrats without a viable bench to compete in the conservative-leaning state and likely put Republicans one seat closer to the four (if President Obama wins reelection) the party needs to take control of the Senate in November.

However, there were some reports Monday stating that he would definitely be a candidate. The Washington Post reported Kerrey told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) he had changed his mind and would run.

Reid’s office declined to comment, and Kerrey’s decision appears to have caught the party off guard. Democratic campaign officials in Nebraska and in Washington could not confirm his decision.

“I’d be cautious,” a Democratic source in Nebraska said of the reports stating that Kerrey would definitely run.

Paul Johnson, a former campaign manager for both Kerrey and Nelson, told The Associated Press that reports that Kerrey had made up his mind to run were untrue.

“He’s thinking about it. He has not made a decision,” Johnson said.

If he does run, Kerrey would give Democrats a fighting chance to hold on to Nelson’s seat but would by no means be a sure thing. Nelson was considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection when he decided to retire rather than risk losing in his battle for another term.

Democratic prospects have been bolstered by a fractured GOP primary that has pitted front-runner and state Attorney General Jon Bruning against state Treasurer Don Stenberg, a Tea Party candidate backed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and his political machine.

“Kerrey’s decision proves the Democrats believe front-runner Jon Bruning is vulnerable,” said Matt Hoskins, a spokesman for DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund.

Speculation immediately turned to whether Kerrey’s initial decision not to run was a fake-out intended to prevent Gov. Dave Heineman (R) from entering the race. Because incumbents in Nebraska must file candidacy papers weeks ahead of non-incumbents — even if they are seeking a different office — it is now too late for Heineman to enter the race. Republicans had looked to Heineman to run for the seat when they anticipated Kerrey might be the Democratic nominee.

Kerrey’s reversal is particularly bad news for Chuck Hassebrook, who jumped into the Democratic primary after Kerrey said he was out. Hassebrook resigned from his post as a University of Nebraska regent in February in order to run for the Senate, and because of the same incumbent filing deadline, it is too late for him to reclaim his old job.

Hassebrook said in a statement Monday that he didn’t think Kerrey would get in the race.

“I do not believe the report that Bob Kerrey is getting in the Senate race. Bob Kerrey is a man of integrity. He told me as recently as a few days ago that he would assist my campaign. I gave up my seat on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents based on his word. I do not believe he would go back on it,” Hassebrook said, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Before Kerrey announced in early February he wouldn’t run, Republicans had already launched an attack, dubbing him a carpetbagger because he had moved from Nebraska to New York, where he led the New School.

They were back on the offensive Monday. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) put out a memo speculating that Kerrey received some type of deal from his former colleagues.

“Given how important this seat is for the liberal Democrat Party’s chances to hold their Senate majority, one wonders what type of backroom deal-making might have taken place between Kerrey and Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid in recent days,” NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer wrote. “Nebraskans remember full well the lengths Reid went to secure Ben Nelson’s vote for ObamaCare by authoring the infamous Cornhusker Kickback, so one can only imagine the conversations that took place with his power perch as Senate majority leader hanging in the balance.”


— This post was last updated at 8:31 p.m.