The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is investing precious resources to bolster Sen. Ben Nelson, even though the Nebraskan has yet to commit to running for re-election in 2012.
Since September, the Nebraska Democratic Party appears to have accessed DSCC transfers to fund about $800,000 worth of statewide television and radio ads on Nelson's behalf, according to GOP sources who track media purchases.
Nelson said in an interview that he would decide by the end of the year whether he will seek a third term, but he disputed any suggestion that there was a connection between his decision and the DSCC's early intervention in the race.
Nelson said family issues and how productive he can be over the course of another six years in the Senate are among his considerations. He characterized the television spots run on his behalf this fall as a "response to all the negative ads that were run about me by Americans for Prosperity and Karl Rove's PAC, and so it's more in that line than anything else."
Crossroads GPS, a Republican 501(c)(4) that counts Rove as a founder, ran issue ads against Nelson during the summer-long debate over the debt limit. "You can't just withstand a lot of negativity without having some level of response," Nelson said, though he added that he did not communicate these feelings to the Nebraska Democratic Party or the DSCC.
"It's a matter of leaving those decisions to my campaign manager. We discuss things, but he's in charge of the campaign," the Senator explained.
Nelson said whether he can win is always a factor in deciding whether to stand for office, but not a major one. Nelson campaign manager Paul Johnson said Friday that he believes Nebraska's senior Senator will run for re-election next year, although Johnson made it clear that is only his personal opinion.
The DSCC declined to comment on its Nebraska strategy. Chairwoman Patty Murray would say only that the DSCC is "helping our candidates who are up for election. Ben Nelson is one of them."
But knowledgeable Democratic operatives said the diminished political standing of state Attorney General Jon Bruning, who has been considered the frontrunner in the Republican primary, was one of the motivations behind the committee stepping in early to try to help soften Nelson's path to re-election. And Democrats concede that the money spent against Nelson this year by Crossroads GPS and other conservative activist groups pushed the DSCC to act.
The Nebraska Democratic Party is not the only state affiliate to receive transfers from the DSCC. But it appears that the Nebraska party may have benefited more than others from the committee's largess. Media tracking sources say the Nebraska party, which first went on air in late July, has bought statewide broadcast and cable television through Nov. 2 at an average of about $135,000 per week, more than enough to penetrate the Cornhusker State's relatively inexpensive media markets.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.