Ex-Sen. Kerrey to run for his former Nebraska seat
OMAHA, Neb.—Former Sen. Bob Kerrey said Wednesday he will seek the Democratic nomination for the Nebraska seat he once held, reversing course just weeks after publicly rejecting a run.
Kerrey earlier this month opted out of the race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, saying not running was best for him and his family.
"It just felt wrong," Kerrey, 68, said during a telephone call to declare his candidacy. "I wasn't happy with the decision."
The turnaround by the 1992 presidential candidate and former Nebraska governor comes one day before the state's candidate filing deadline. Coupled with Republican Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe's announcement Tuesday that she will not seek re-election, it gives new hope to national Democrats desperate to stop Republicans from netting four Senate seats this fall and regaining control of the chamber.
Kerrey said he was watching the Oscars with his wife, former "Saturday Night Live" writer Sarah Paley, when she said to him: "'You're not happy. I can see it. And I want you to be happy.'"
He said they revisited the conversation until Wednesday, when he got into the race with her blessing.
Kerrey also acknowledged encouragement to reconsider from national Democrats, including multiple telephone conversations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Asked whether Reid had offered him any incentives, such as preserving Kerrey's seniority from his earlier two-term service, Kerrey said, "I did have some things that I asked for."
But Reid "asked me to not describe them until they figure out exactly the timing of them and how to do it," he added.
When asked for comment Wednesday, a Reid spokesman referred to comments Reid made about Kerrey a day earlier.
"Well there's lots of speculation, about whether or not Bob's going to run and (conversations) I've had over the last several weeks with Bob Kerrey -- and none of those I'm going to talk about here," Reid said Tuesday.
However welcome by the national party, Kerrey's late decision is sure to create intrastate friction. Fellow Democrat Chuck Hassebrook stepped into the race after Kerrey bowed out, giving up a University of Nebraska regent seat he's held for nearly 18 years.
Hassebrook has vowed to stay in the Senate race, despite understanding that Kerrey will inherit Nelson's campaign team and presumably much of the nearly $3 million Nelson amassed for a re-election bid before announcing his retirement.
Kerrey said he understands his last-minute entrance creates a rift.
"I don't know that it's mendable," Kerrey said. "I apologized to Chuck when I talked to him, and I do so again now."
The Nebraska Democratic Party won't be taking sides, chairman Vic Covalt said in a statement.
Former Nebraska GOP chairman and 2006 Senate candidate David Kramer said Kerrey's re-emergence pushes a relatively low profile Nebraska race "into probably a full-fledged battle for what could be a toss-up."
"The expectation on a national level will be that he provides the Democrats with a better opportunity to hold that seat, and when every seat is going to matter, having that kind of cachet matters," Kramer said.
Kerrey's turnaround is the latest lurch in what has been a roller coaster ride for Nebraska Democrats since Nelson's surprise December announcement that he would not seek a third term.
Kerrey said soon after that he would consider running for the seat he had held from 1989-2000. It took weeks for Kerrey to initially demur, and another three before he announced he had changed his mind again.
The back-and-forth should come as little surprise coming from Kerry, a man affectionately dubbed "Cosmic Bob" while he was senator for his tendency to ponder decisions and change his mind on any number of issues, Kramer said.
Others believe his indecision will factor into the race.
"It will be harder for him to explain and be serious about this," said University of Nebraska Lincoln political science professor Mike Wagner. "That ought to be assumed, and I don't know that it is for him."
Republicans wasted no time launching renewed attacks on Kerrey. The National Republican Senatorial Committee put out a statement calling Kerrey "a tax-and-spend liberal" and suggesting his candidacy stems from "backroom deal-making."
The GOP also is sure to hammer Kerrey's decision to leave the Senate and Nebraska to move to New York, where he has lived for the past decade, and become president of the New School -- a self-described progressive university in Greenwich Village.
Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps said Wednesday that Kerrey had registered to vote in Nebraska a day earlier using the Omaha address of his sister, Jessie Rasmussen. Phipps said it meets state law requirements for Kerrey to declare his sister's house as his residence.
Kerrey denied again Wednesday that he waited to get into the race to ensure he wouldn't face a challenge from popular GOP Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who reportedly was under pressure from high-level Republicans who feared Kerrey would run and win. Heineman can't get into the race now; the Nebraska filing deadline for officeholders was Feb. 15.
"If I was a Republican trying to figure this thing out, I might say that, as well," Kerrey said. "So I'm sympathetic to why they say that. ... But it doesn't bear any resemblance to reality."
The GOP's Senate primary ticket already includes state Attorney General Jon Bruning, state Treasurer Don Stenberg, state Sen. Deb Fischer, and investment adviser Pat Flynn. A fifth candidate, Steven Zimmerman, has filed for candidacy, but has raised no money since joining the race last year.
Associated Press writer Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.