Republican says Nelson should back Alito, or else

Nebraska Senate candidate Don Stenberg (R) warned Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) yesterday that he can expect to get hammered if he votes against Judge Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination.

“It’s a very important issue,” said Stenberg, who is running against Ameritrade executive Pete Ricketts and former Nebraska Republican Party Chairman David Kramer in May’s GOP primary.

“I think if Senator Nelson is not supportive of putting judges on the bench who will not legislate from the bench it will be very important,” said Stenberg, who served as Nebraska’s attorney general from 1991 to 2003 and has argued cases before the Supreme Court three times.

Kramer, referring to Nelson, added, “I don’t think he can afford for political reasons to oppose a nominee like Judge Alito.”

All three Republicans in the race support Alito.

Nelson, a member of the Gang of 14 that forged a pact over filibusters of judicial nominees in the summer, met with Alito yesterday for 40 minutes in his Senate office, Communications Director David DiMartino said.

He said that Alito “satisfied Senator Nelson that he did not plan to be an activist judge,” but, DiMartino added, the senator remains undecided about how he will vote. “You never know what comes up in the confirmation hearings,” DiMartino said.

Nelson is regarded by Republicans and Democrats alike as one of a handful of crucial swing votes on the Alito nomination — made clear by the fact that his meeting with the nominee, organized by the White House, preceded that of most members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nelson is not a member of the panel.

Nelson was one of 22 Democrats to vote for John Roberts, President Bush’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

The senator’s support for Alito would enhance his prospects, particularly if Senate Democrats try to filibuster his nomination.