Return engagements are hardly easy, and they weren't exactly smooth for Coats and Lautenberg. Coats faced criticism for not knowing how much he made as a lobbyist and questions about his residency; Lautenberg had to answer for the greased path that allowed him to replace Torricelli despite New Jersey rules.
Kerrey is now a frequent flyer to Nebraska from his home in New York where his wife, screenwriter Sarah Paley, and young son, Henry, live. He hasn't run statewide since 1994 and will have to introduce himself to voters who only recognize the name from Omaha's popular pedestrian bridge spanning the Missouri River.
"Honestly, before his name started being floated as a Senate candidate, all I had heard of him was that he was a former senator and his name was on the pedestrian bridge," said Eric Hansen, a 21-year-old political science major at Creighton University in Omaha.
Kerrey lost part of his right leg in Vietnam and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was governor from 1983-87 and ran for president in 1992. During his post-Senate tenure, he served on the 9/11 Commission and was president of the New School University in New York.
David Kramer, the former Nebraska GOP chairman and 2006 Senate candidate who has been involved in state politics for 30 years, said Republicans will try to define Kerrey for the voters. Outside groups have used radio ads to cast him as a Greenwich Village New Yorker.
"On some levels, I think it's to his advantage to be able to reintroduce himself, because he'll get to define what issues he wants to define himself on," said Kramer, who remembered a "young, single man who dated Debra Winger, and he had that 'it' factor."
Fellow Democrat Chuck Hassebrook stepped aside this week, clearing the way for Kerrey who initially had passed on another bid. Kerrey said if elected, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would honor his previous 12 years, but with no promise based on seniority. Assignments on Armed Services and Agriculture are likely.
Said Republican Coats: "You're legacy is not going to be what you were before. Your legacy is going to be what you did when you were faced with some really tough choices.'
Beck reported from Omaha, Neb. Associated Press writer Tom LoBianco in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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