The announcement from former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey that he would not seek his old Senate seat confirmed what political analysts have long thought—that the Cornhusker state is likely out of reach for the Democrats this cycle.
Political analysts weren't sure whether Kerrey, who's spent the past 10 years in New York as president of the New School, ever really had a shot in a state that has changed a lot since his first statewide run in 1982. But had he run, Kerrey would have brought name recognition and a significant resume to the table. Without him, and without another big name in the mix, Democrats may have lost the seat currently held by retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson for good.
"It really does make it harder for Democrats to keep this competitive," says Jennifer Duffy, managing editor of the Cook Political Report.
Along with retiring North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, it's looking like Democrats will almost certainly lose two plains state Senate seats. Republican operatives are already speculating that Kerrey's decision will let them pull resources from Nebraska and go on attack in other battleground states, as well as some on the Democrats' turf.
"Given their records, both Kerrey and Nelson would have likely been underdogs, but both are well known and both had the capacity to raise a lot of money, so Republicans would have had to devote significant financial resources in Nebraska," says one GOP strategist. "Their decision to forgo a run now opens the possibility of national Republicans being able to shift that money to other key states like New Mexico and Hawaii where they've been able to expand the map and go on offense."
With Kerrey and Nelson out, remaining possible candidates for the Democrats include State Sen. Steve Lathrop and former Lt. Gov. Kim Robak.
Democrats aren't admitting that they're on the defensive when it comes to the Senate map, claiming that fallout from the Republican primaries will give them an advantage in GOP-leaning states.
"While Republicans are mired in divisive primaries forcing candidates to the far right wing, Democratic incumbets are running well-organized, strong campaigns and Democrats have recruited first rate challengers and candidates in open seats," says Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Canter said that Massachusetts, Nevada, Arizona, and Indiana were examples of states currently held by the GOP where Democrats are mounting energetic campaigns. The Tea Party-funded challenge against Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, for instance, is giving Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly hope that he might be able to pull out a win. Democrats are also hoping that a brutal Republican primary between Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg will ultimately give the Dems a shot.
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