Ker­rey looks to Laut­en­berg, Coats in bid to re­join Se­nate

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY DONNA CAS­SATA AND MARGERY A. BECK

Call ‘em the come­back crew. Re­pub­li­can Sen. Daniel Coats of In­di­ana and Demo­cratic Sen. Frank R. Laut­en­berg of New Jer­sey served years in the Se­nate, bowed out be­cause of a term-lim­its prom­ise or the frus­tra­tion of end­less fundrais­ing and then dis­cov­ered they couldn’t quit the place.

Pleas from party lead­ers and the op­por­tu­nity to re­vise and ex­tend their lega­cies lured them back. Now in their sec­ond acts, at age 68 and 88, re­spec­tively, they could be joined by for­mer Demo­cratic Sen. Bob Ker­rey, who left Washington in Jan­uary 2001.

Mr. Ker­rey, who was Ne­braska’s gov­er­nor and two-term se­na­tor, faces an uphill fight in try­ing to win the seat that Demo­crat Ben Nel­son is leav­ing at the end of the year. Ne­braska is a strong Re­pub­li­can state — John Mccain beat Barack Obama 57 per­cent to 42 per­cent in the 2008 pres­i­den­tial race — and out­side groups al­ready have la­beled Mr. Ker­rey a car­pet­bag­ger who spent the past decade as an aca­demic in New York City.

The dec­o­rated for­mer Navy SEAL re­mains un­de­terred about com­ing back to a fiercely di­vided Washington.

“Maybe Olympia Snowe is right: You’ve got ter­mi­nal dys­func­tion, and there’s noth­ing that can be done about it,” said Mr. Ker­rey, re­fer­ring to the mod­er­ate Maine GOP se­na­tor who re­cently de­cided against an­other cam­paign. “But you tend to be more op­ti­mistic about be­ing able to get some­thing done about it when you’re on the out­side rather than on the in­side.”

Bit­ter par­ti­san­ship has sti­fled plenty of agen­das and made Congress an unattrac­tive des­ti­na­tion for many, es­pe­cially with law­mak­ers held in such low stand­ing. Still, the na­tion’s grow­ing list of prob­lems, from a tril­lion-plus deficit to sal­vaging costly en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams, push politi­cians back to Washington.

Mr. Coats served from 1989 to 1999, then was am­bas­sador to Ger­many in Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and a Washington lob­by­ist. About two years ago, Re­pub­li­can Sen. John Cornyn of Texas called him about pos­si­ble can­di­dates with statewide name recog­ni­tion to run against Sen. Evan Bayh, then a for­mi­da­ble Demo­cratic in­cum­bent. When Mr. Bayh de­cided against an­other bid, Mr. Coats sur­vived a tough GOP pri­mary and then eas­ily won the seat in Novem­ber 2010.

Mr. Laut­en­berg left the Se­nate in Jan­uary 2001 af­ter 18 years. Then came Sept. 11 and the ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

“I re­al­ized I made a mis­take. With my ex­pe­ri­ence, I’m not there, the war is start­ing, the re­ces­sion’s start­ing,” Mr. Laut­en­berg said in an in­ter­view. “I missed it ter­ri­bly. I felt help­less.”

The ethics woes of for­mer New Jer­sey Sen. Robert G. Tor­ri­celli forced him to aban­don his bid in 2002. Democrats scram­bled for a re­place­ment and en­sured that Mr. Laut­en­berg got on the bal­lot. He won hand­ily and in the past decade, has fought against pri­va­ti­za­tion of the air-traf­fic con­trol sys­tem and pushed for tighter se­cu­rity at sea­ports and airports.

All told, 35 sen­a­tors have served non­con­sec­u­tive terms since 1913, an il­lus­tri­ous list that in­cludes Re­pub­li­can Barry Gold­wa­ter, who re­claimed a Se­nate seat from Ari­zona in 1968, four years af­ter los­ing a pres­i­den­tial bid, and Min­nesota Demo­crat Hu­bert H. Humphrey, who re­signed in De­cem­ber 1964 to be­come vice pres­i­dent, ran un­suc­cess­fully for pres­i­dent in 1968 and re­turned to the Se­nate in 1971.

Re­turn en­gage­ments are hardly easy, and they weren’t ex­actly smooth for Mr. Coats and Mr. Laut­en­berg. Mr. Coats faced crit­i­cism for not know­ing how much he made as a lob­by­ist and ques­tions about his res­i­dency, while Mr. Laut­en­berg had to an­swer for the greased path that moved him to the front of the Demo­cratic Party’s nom­i­na­tion process.

Said Mr. Coats: “Your 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.”


Sens. Frank R. Laut­en­berg (left), New Jer­sey Demo­crat, and Daniel Coats, In­di­ana Re­pub­li­can, re­turned to the Se­nate af­ter ab­sences of two and 12 years, re­spec­tively. Now, an­other for­mer se­na­tor, with whom they both served, is at­tempt­ing a come­back.

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