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Kerrey: “I start this campaign as an underdog”

By   /   February 29, 2012  /   14 Comments

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey roiled political waters today when he announced he has changed his mind and will run for the U.S. Senate.

Twenty-one days ago, after weeks of reflection and a whirlwind media tour de Nebraska, Kerrey decided against a run, saying familial considerations came first. But today he reversed course abruptly, saying he had a change of heart after a conversation with his wife over the weekend.

“She saw that I wasn’t happy and she said to me that if this’ll make you happy I think you should do it, let’s talk about what it really means,” Kerrey said in an interview with Nebraska Watchdog. “She’s never been through a campaign and they’re hard, they’re hard on families.”

Kerrey said she was worried about the impact of a campaign on their 10-year-old son, Henry. She told him he should reconsider his decision, and they concluded they could manage a campaign and not interfere with their family.

In a statement to the press, Kerrey said he realized his prior decision not to run was the easy decision, but not the right one.

And with that, Nebraska became a battleground state once again as Democrats struggle to hold onto control of the Senate in the November elections. Before Kerrey joined the race, the Nebraska seat was considered a lock for Republicans.

Kerrey served as Nebraska’s governor from 1983 to 1987 and then served in the U.S. Senate from 1989 to 2001. He was a presidential candidate in 1992.

Now it’s too late for Nebraska’s heavy hitter, Gov. Dave Heineman, or Nebraska’s Congressmen to jump in the race because the filing deadline for incumbents has passed. When asked about Kerrey’s turnabout today, the governor said his own decision not to get in the race had nothing to do with Kerrey’s earlier decision not to run.

“I’m glad Bob Kerrey has found Nebraska from New York,” Heineman said. “What he does has absolutely no bearing on what I do.”

But Attorney General Jon Bruning is far from a pushover, as the leading Republican contender in a field of five. Kerrey said both Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg are strong candidates and Nebraska is a Republican state where President Barack Obama is unpopular. He said polling would likely show him trailing Bruning or Stenberg.

“It’s likely I’m going to start this campaign as an underdog,” Kerrey said. “I don’t start off saying, ‘Gee I can win this easily.’ I look at this thing and I say, ‘I think it’s winnable.’ I don’t know how winnable. I think I can persuade Nebraska that I should be their senator. But I’m not afraid of losing, so if I lose, I lose.”

The rejiggered race is sure to attract millions in TV ads and spending by outside groups. Kerrey is a household name in Nebraska, even though he’s been living and working in New York City for the past dozen years. Even as Kerrey pondered a run earlier this year, Republicans immediately howled about carpetbagging in ads and sound bytes.

But perhaps the larger issue is whether Kerrey’s politics align with Nebraska’s. Kerrey is still a household name in Nebraska, but there’s a whole generation of voters who’ve never seen his name on a ballot. And Nebraska is much more Republican than it was when Kerrey’s name last appeared on a ballot.

“The state is more conservative than it used to be, but he has won a number of statewide races in Nebraska,” said Mike Wagner, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska.

He thinks it will be tough for Kerrey to win the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Ben Nelson.

“I think he’s got a long row to hoe,” Wagner said. “It’s going to be very difficult for him to win. This matchup is one that Republican elites in Washington were most worried about. But short of some unforeseen scandal and enormous long-lasting gaffe, it would be very difficult for Kerrey to overcome the Republican registration advantage, carpetbagger attacks, the ‘Do I really want to do this?’ question.”

Kerrey is a more seasoned candidate and will have a lot of money behind him, and Bruning still faces questions about his conversion from liberal to conservative and hasn’t faced a competitive election before.

“He’s won statewide races before but hasn’t faced searing attacks,” Wagner said of Bruning.

But will Nebraskans elect a man who’s been in New York for the past decade?

“I think it would be silly to decide that Nebraskans are a bunch of provincial people who reject all things big city or that people from New York are snobs who look down on all things Great Plains,” Wagner said. “But I do think it’ll be tough for Kerrey to say I moved away for 12 years, and only when I decided to run for the Senate did I move back.”

He thinks Kerrey will run a competitive race that will be good for the Democratic Party in Nebraska, although his entry into the race makes it harder for a new crop of Dems – like the other Democrat in the race, Chuck Hassebrook — to edge into the picture.

“They need to move beyond Ben Nelson and Bob Kerrey to have a serious statewide candidate,” Wagner said.

Hassebrook said he still had not heard from Kerrey directly as of Wednesday afternoon, although they had an email conversation Wednesday morning in which Kerrey still didn’t acknowledge he was running. Contrary to some media reports that Kerrey apologized to Hassebrook in that email, Hassebrook said, “Not exactly.”

“I’m disappointed that Bob broke his word on this but he does have a right to run,” Hassebrook said. “At least now we know what the target is – it’s a primary election.”

Kerrey said he feels badly but doesn’t think it’s fair to say he cost Hassebrook his regent seat.

“We’re both adults. You make decisions, you live with the consequences of those decisions. I feel badly that he’s in this race because he might not have been in this race had I announced earlier, but I’m not certain about it. He really wanted to run for the Senate. He wanted to become a candidate. And I admire him, I like what he’s talking about but I don’t feel any personal responsibility for the decision he made.”

Kerrey also said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made some promises to him, but wouldn’t get specific, saying he’ll divulge that in the coming weeks.

“I asked for them (promises) and he agreed, but it was a private conversation,” Kerrey said. “I wouldn’t cut any deal unless it’s beneficial to Nebraska.”

Nebraska Right to Life immediately promised to “vigorously oppose” Kerrey.

“If Bob Kerrey had his way, partial birth abortion would still be legal, given that he voted against banning it five times while in the Senate,” said Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life. “Pro-life Nebraskans rejected Ben Nelson after his abandonment of pro-life language in health care reform. They are not going to embrace Bob Kerrey whose voting record on this issue is more abysmal than Ben Nelson’s ever was.”

Republican contender Deb Fischer said she welcomed Kerrey to the race because his “liberal views” will be a stark contrast to her conservatism.

“His statements in support of government-run health care, cap and trade, tax increases and partial-birth abortion are just a few of the issues where I believe it’s evident how out of touch Mr. Kerrey is with Nebraskans,” the state lawmaker said in a press statement.

Reported by Deena Winter,

deena@nebraskawatchdog.org.

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Deena Winter is a reporter for NebraskaWatchdog.org. Contact her at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @DeenaNEWatchdog.

  • Biff

    Before the ‘carpetbagger’ critics come out from under their rocks, let me just say three words: Hagel, Fortenberry and Foley. Kerrey was born here and lived in Nebraska for more than 50 of his 68 years. I think he qualifies as a Nebraskan.

  • From The Bleachers

    I am going to change my party affiliation for the primary and vote for Chuck Hassebrook!

  • Biff

    Careful, ‘Bleachers.’ In some future scenario you might feel the need to criticize a dem who switches parties to vote in the GOP Primary — you don’t want to have a guilty conscience!

  • Integrity

    Man of integrity… wow, Hassebrook you were fooled, many were fooled. There are skeletons… let’s open that closet.

  • Franklyn

    Bob Kerrey is a thoughtful, measued, intelligent, courageous man who will eat John Bruning for lunch in any debate on any issue. The question is, do most Nebraskans relate to intelligence, courage, thoughtfulness and measure, or do they blindly suckle at the teat of pachydermatous politicians?

  • Watching From Lincoln

    For the most part they blindly suckle at the teat of 30 second propaganda sound bites. This is going to be an interesting election cycle with two legitimate contenders on one side in the primary and several illegitimate pretenders on the other side. If it does come down to a Kerry-Bruning race in the General Election, look for the Independent and moderate vote to go Kerry. I relish the thought of Kerry-Bruning debates, Bob will have the little pretender for lunch and pass him by dinner. This will be so fun, I can’t wait to start contributing to Republicans for Kerry!

  • Andre Borakova

    NYC is not much different from Nebraska. There are fat cows in both places. (Although they don’t slaughter them for meat in New York, they make them become Governor of New Jersey.) There is corn growing in both states. (Though de-tasseling is something the strippers do there for extra tips after pole dancing.) And from what I have seen there are Yankees fans in both states. Really, Nebraska could be considered just another NYC Borough. Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and Nebraska.

  • Retrospect

    Methinks Mr. Kerrey is suffering from Male Menopause!! But then what’s the alternative? A SLIMEBALL like Jon Bruning who’s a Major CROOK & he’s not even in Washington!

  • Boomers: Not Going Gently into that Good Night

    More breaking news: Amazon.com has 36 copies of Ivy Harper’s best-selling Kerrey biography called, “Waltzing Matilda: The Life & Times of Nebraska Senator Robert Kerrey.” St. Martin’s Press.

    Sure, the book is 20 years old but I’ve been told it’s a great read and according to a Washington Post writer, the subject himself reported, “It’s as close to an autobiography as could ever be written.”

    Then, Kerrey ended up writing a well-received autobiography called, “When I was a Young Man” which is the first line of the Australian anti-war song: Waltzing Matilda. A literary loop, if you will.

    Bottom line: Kerrey’s decision is proof positive that Baby Boomers do not plan to Go Gently Into That Good Night. No siree, Bob.

    From the original Poet named Dylan:

    Do not go gentle into that good night,

    Old age should burn and rage at close of day;

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

    Because their words had forked no lightning they

    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/elections/kerrey-enters-senate-race/article_1de15ac8-33dc-5fb3-bf48-90081cbdba80.html?mode=comments#ixzz1noYUv53W

  • shortnsweet

    This could be a good thing for Hasselbrook. Kerry jumping into the race will give Hasselbrook more name recognition. When Tom Osborn ran for Govenor, I thought he was a shoe-in.

    Strange things happen in politics.

    Hasselbrook should look for ways to take advantage of of the attention that is now on the Democratic race.

  • ToucheTurtle

    Well, all I can say is that Hassebrook should have made Kerrey take a blood oath when Bob swore he was not going to run! It just goes to show that in this day and age a man is not necessarily as good as his word!! Perhaps Bob has FORGOTTEN that tradition which has belonged to being born and raised in another time here in our fair state! How quickly trust, honesty and integrity die when one want to go to Washington!

    Like I have said before, Bob needs to take a run at it. He may just find out how much Nebraskans have missed his presence for the past 10 years? Does that mean he has to move back here for the next six years or so, or is he going to be like Rohm Emanuel and just be an absentee landlord and paying taxes qualifies him as a resident? Who knew it was so easy to be a resident of multiple locations!!!! Does that entitle him to vote in multiple locations as well? Just asking because it might be important with all the discussion of election fraud these days!

  • http://none Roger Yant

    For God sakes, Bob is back, how about, another version of Ben Nelson, I guess if Bob is a citizen of Nebraska I can claim I’m a citizen of New York right? Do you remember the Commonwealth disaster, read the book by John DeCamp called “The Franklin Cover-Up”. Pretty interesting material. It’s a good read, it should open your eyes. Bob lied to Hassebrook, what makes you think he won’t lie to us?

  • Jane Kinsey

    I hope the carpetbagger is soundly trounced. He is a self-centered opportunist if there ever was one, Jon Bruning being another. If our choice is Kerrey or Bruning , I hope Hassebrook and Fischer upset them handily.

  • Jay in GI

    Those who would hang the ‘carpetbagger’ label on Bob Kerrey should remember another name, Tom Osborne.

    Running (and winning) for Congress from the 3rd District PROBABLY cost him the Governorship.

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