Bob Kerrey Gives Senate Race One More Look

Experts wonder if former senator's previous rejection was merely a ruse to knock out a tough GOP foe.


Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey is starting to look like the Democrats' Hamlet.

After initially declining a Senate run in his Nebraska home state earlier this month, Kerrey is now throwing his hat back into he ring, according to a report from the Washington Post, giving the Democrats a shot in the deep red state, and possibly re-jiggering the political battle lines their favor a bit.

Kerrey's former campaign consultant, Paul Johnson, told the Associated Press that Kerrey was reconsidering his bid, and would make a decision soon.

While Kerrey's move might seem schizophrenic, it might have been more a case of cool political calculation to take out one of his biggest potential rivals for the seat.

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Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, considered to be one of the Republicans' best candidates, declined to run when Kerrey bowed out. But an earlier filing deadline for current office-holders prevents him from reconsidering his decision now that Kerrey's reportedly thrown his hat back in.

That leaves the Republicans with a choice between Nebraska attorney general Jon Bruning and state treasurer Don Stenberg, which Democrats are hoping will turn into a bloody primary leaving the eventual nominee damaged.

"There was a lot of pressure on the governor to run," says Mike Wagner, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska. "When Kerrey bowed out, the pressure was gone. Any Republican with a heartbeat ought to win the race if Bob Kerrey's not in it."

Now that Kerrey's back in, Republicans are stuck with the candidates they already have."It certainly looks like a political calculation," Wagner says.

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His move surely comes as welcome relief for the Democrats. Their political bench in Nebraska is thin, and most of its best candidates, such as former Lieutenant Gov. Kim Robak and State Senator Steve Lathrop, already took themselves out of the running. Without Kerrey, Nebraska was looking like a certain win for the GOP, and some operatives already speculated that they could pull funds from the race and put them in other areas.

Kerrey, a 1992 presidential candidate, has a significant resume and name recognition. But Republicans are also likely to jump on what they claim are huge weaknesses.

Kerrey has spent the past decade in New York as president of the New School, even flirting with a possible run to be mayor of the Big Apple. A darker episode from his past—a murky Vietnam SEAL mission which left several women and children dead—likely scared him away from a 2004 presidential run, and could also haunt him in the new senate run.

Plus, the state has become much more Republican than when Kerrey made his first run in 1988.

"I think he is extraordinarily unlikely to win," Wagner say. "But it will be a competitive race, and by far the most competitive race of any of the available candidates."

Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia professor of political science, said he's still predicting an easy win for Republicans in November.

"Kerrey's last run was 18 years ago," Sabato says. "Nebraska will be very, very Republican in 2012."

Twitter: @AlexParkerDC