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Nebraska’s Hamlet Moment

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey Strongly Reconsidering Possible Senate Comeback Bid, Putting Seat In Play

Nati Harnik/Associated Press
Former Sen. Bob Kerrey is the only Democrat who could compete to hold the Nebraska Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Ben Nelson.

Call it the Cornhusker question mark.

Word leaked Monday that former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) is strongly reconsidering a comeback Senate bid in Nebraska, eliciting a mixture of reactions from Capitol Hill to Lincoln about a decision that could take a sure pickup off the table for Republicans.

Regardless of what Kerrey decides to do, the GOP is expected to win the seat of retiring Sen. Ben Nelson (D) at this point. But Kerrey, a well-liked former governor and Senator, would put the state in play and force Republicans to spend resources there. Kerrey is considered the only Democratic candidate who can make the race competitive, despite having lived in New York City for the past 11 years. 

“It’s definitely a game-changer,” Democratic strategist Ed Espinoza said.

Democrats went to great lengths to recruit Kerrey. Knowledgeable Democratic sources said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil have been instrumental in wooing Kerrey.

Sources said Reid may try to convince Democratic Conference members to allow Kerrey to re-enter the Senate with his seniority intact if he wins.

In addition to that incentive, one Democratic operative said Kerrey might view a 2012 Senate bid more favorably than he did in January because of signs that the economy is improving, possibly reducing the difficulty of running as a Democrat in Nebraska in a presidential year.

But Kerrey was still considering late Monday and had yet to make up his mind, and Democrats who have followed his career pre- and post-Senate retirement said the situation is fluid and remains delicate. These sources worried that the leak of news that Kerrey is reconsidering his decision not to run could scare him off and keep him in New York, where the 68-year-old has lived since 2001.

The Washington Post first reported the news Monday that Kerrey was running for Senate. Throughout the day, reports conflicted over whether Kerrey had made a definitive decision.

Ever since Kerrey announced he would not run for Senate on Feb. 7, Nebraska had faded away from relevance in the big picture chess game that is the Senate playing field. Interest in the race had shifted from the general election to the primary, as the growing consensus was that Republicans would take the seat and the party’s nominee would be the state’s next Senator.

Many Nebraska Democrats were caught surprised and flat-footed when reached for comment Monday. The state party and the DSCC essentially went on lockdown and weren’t responding on the record to press inquiries, which only added to the conflicting reports.

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