Bob Kerrey: Promises from Reid factored into Senate decision

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) acknowledged Wednesday that a deal he struck with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was important to his decision to get into Nebraska's Senate race.

Speaking with surprising candor, Kerrey also acknowledged he wasn't sure how winnable the seat was, and praised both his primary opponent and the candidates in the Republican primary.

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"Yes," Kerrey told Nebraska Watchdog, in his first television interview since making his announcement, when asked if Reid had made him promises. "I won't tell you [what they are]. It's still a private conversation. I'd like very much, sometime soon, to be able to identify what they are, but they were important to me, and I asked for them, and he agreed."

Although Kerrey didn't say what Reid had offered him, many speculated he had been offered his old seniority, despite not having served in the Senate for more than a decade, or a spot back on the Senate Finance Committee, which is a coveted slot.

Republicans have charged it was done in a shady backroom deal — a charge made potent because of Sen. Ben Nelson, the retiring Democrat Kerrey hopes to replace, whose deal with Reid to secure his support for President Obama's healthcare reform became known pejoratively as the "Cornhusker Kickback."

Democrats had urged Nelson not to retire, but even if he had run for reelection, he faced difficult prospects, which were made worse for Democrats when he opted out of another term. Kerrey said his expectations weren't unrealistic.

"I don't start off saying, 'Gee, I can win this thing easily.' I look at this and I say, 'I think it's winnable.' I don't know how winnable, but I think I can persuade Nebraska that I should be their senator," he said.

"But I'm not afraid of losing. So if I lose, I lose."

Kerrey also responded to claims he cost a friend and fellow Democrat, Chuck Hassebrook, his job by going back on his decision not to compete for the seat. Hassebrook waited until Kerrey said he was out before announcing his own candidacy and gave up his seat on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, a position he can no longer get back.

"I feel badly about it, but I don't think anybody should be denied their right to make a decision about whether or not they're going to run," Kerrey said. "And he may win the primary, for all I know."

Watch the interview: