Ker­rey changes mind, de­cides on Se­nate run

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SEAN LENGELL

For­mer Ne­braska Sen. Bob Ker­rey has changed his mind and will seek the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion for Se­nate af­ter all, a decision Wed­nes­day that sig­nif­i­cantly boosts his party’s ef­forts to keep one of its most vul­ner­a­ble seats this fall.

Mr. Ker­rey, 68, who rep­re­sented the state in the Se­nate for 12 years be­fore re­tir­ing in 2001, said his re­ver­sal fit his char­ac­ter be­cause “do­ing things the con­ven­tional way has never been my strong suit.”

“I came to re­al­ize that my pre­vi­ous decision was the easy one, not the right one,” he said. “My com­mit­ment to serve Ne­braska and Amer­ica, and to be part of the de­bate about the chal­lenges we face was too strong to dis­miss.”

He said his fam­ily sup­ports his decision “100 per­cent.”

Sen. Ben Nel­son’s De­cem­ber an­nounce­ment that he wouldn’t seek re­elec­tion this year left Ne­braska Democrats scram­bling to find a re­place­ment can­di­date. Fac­ing a shal­low tal­ent pool, the party pressed Mr. Ker­rey to run.

Mr. Ker­rey dashed the party’s hopes to keep the seat when, ear­lier this month, he re­jected a come­back bid for the Se­nate. But on Mon­day re­ports spread that he was hav­ing sec­ond thoughts and might en­ter the race — spec­u­la­tion that nei­ther he nor Demo­cratic Party of­fi­cials de­nied.

A Ker­rey can­di­dacy would jump-start en­thu­si­asm, me­dia at­ten­tion and cash for Democrats in a state where reg­is­tered Repub­li­cans out­num­ber reg­is­tered Democrats, 48 per­cent to 32 per­cent.

“We need a shot in the arm, we need some­body who is go­ing to rally the troops,” said Jane Kleeb, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Bold Ne­braska, a lib­eral ad­vo­cacy group. “He’s not like a typ­i­cal politi­cian . . . and we know he can raise the money.”

But a Ker­rey can­di­dacy will face nu­mer­ous hur­dles. He has lived in New York City for more than a decade, caus­ing crit­ics to ac­cuse him of be­ing out of touch with Ne­braska is­sues and val­ues.

Mrs. Kleeb dis­puted ac­cu­sa­tions that Mr. Ker­rey, who also is a for­mer Ne­braska gov­er­nor, isn’t qual­i­fied to serve the state in the Se­nate.

“Be­cause he’s lived in New York a cou­ple of years, it doesn’t take away his cit­i­zen­ship card as be­ing an Amer­i­can,” she said. “He has not for­got­ten his roots.”

But Jen­nifer Duffy, who cov­ers Se­nate races for the Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port, said Mr. Ker­rey’s time in New York City par­tic­u­larly his 2001-to-2010 ten­ure as pres­i­dent of the New School, a Green­wich Vil­lage univer­sity that con­ser­va­tives la­bel a “lib­eral haven,” is prob­lem­atic for the can­di­date.

Ne­braskan vot­ers also are more con­ser­va­tive than when Mr. Ker­rey last ran for of­fice in 1994, Ms. Duffy said.

“This is not to say that Ker­rey can’t or won’t make this a com­pet­i­tive race, but I think Repub­li­cans re­tain an ad­van­tage here,” she said.

Repub­li­cans called Mr. Ker­rey’s decision a “flip-flop,” while some in the party also have ac­cused Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, of “twist­ing” the Ne­braskan’s arm and en­gag­ing in a “back­room deal” to get him to run.

“Bob Ker­rey is a loyal sup­porter of the Obama agenda and he’s sim­ply out of step with Ne­braska,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman with the Na­tional Re­pub­li­can Se­na­to­rial Com­mit­tee, the fundrais­ing arm of Se­nate Repub­li­cans.

Mr. Ker­rey must con­tend with three other pri­mary Democrats the most for­mi­da­ble be­ing Chuck Hasse­brook, who en­tered the race af­ter Mr. Ker­rey ini­tially de­cided not to run. In do­ing so, Mr. Hasse­brook gave up a chance to run again for a Univer­sity of Ne­braska re­gent seat he has held for al­most 18 years.

The crowded Re­pub­li­can field in­cludes state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jon Brun­ing, state Trea­surer Don Sten­berg, state Sen. Deb Fischer and in­vest­ment ad­viser Pat Flynn.

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