OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey is reconsidering his decision not to run for Nebraska’s open U.S. Senate seat this year, a Democratic campaign consultant who has worked with Kerrey said Monday.
The news came weeks after Kerrey, a 1992 Democratic presidential candidate and former one-term Nebraska governor, initially rejected running after weeks of speculation. Paul Johnson, who served as campaign manager for Nelson and Kerrey, said Kerrey told him Monday morning that he was again considering running for the seat now held by outgoing Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.
Kerrey’s decision to reconsider his options could put the seat back into play for Democrats who had considered him the party’s best hope of retaining the seat as Republicans work to net the four seats they need this November to take control of the Senate.
But Kerrey also has a history of considering campaigns that he never enters. He did so in 2000, when he considered another run for president, as well as in 2005, when he toyed with running for New York City mayor. In 2008, he again stepped away from a run for Nebraska’s last open U.S. Senate seat, now held by Republican Mike Johanns.
Johnson said Kerrey has not yet made up his mind and reports that he had decided to run “are not true.” But he said Kerrey, 68, could announce a decision as soon as Wednesday. The deadline for Kerrey, who served as U.S. Senator from 1989-2000, to file for a Senate run this year is Thursday.
“On a stack of Bibles, he has not made that final determination as of right now,” Johnson said. “Obviously, there’s a short window.”
Johnson said he couldn’t comment on why Kerrey is reconsidering, except to say: “Obviously, he felt uncomfortable with his decision.”
Kerrey did not immediately return email and phone messages left Monday by The Associated Press seeking comment.
His entrance into the race could be a game-changer for Democrats, who had all but ceded the seat to Republicans after both Nelson and Kerrey had earlier bowed out.
“Bob Kerrey’s entrance immediately makes this a race to watch,” said Steve McMahon, a national Democratic strategist and media consultant and Nebraska native. “While Nebraska tilts Republican, Bob Kerrey has always defied that tilt.”
But a Kerrey run could also stir some resentment within his own party and give Republicans ammunition to label Kerrey as indecisive.
Kerrey’s indecision this time around would likely claim a casualty in his own camp, University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook, who announced his bid for the Democratic nomination for Nelson’s seat after Kerrey said earlier this month that he wouldn’t run.
Hassebrook gave up the chance to run for re-election to the regent’s seat he’s held since 1994 so he could give Democrats a recognizable name at the top of the November ballot. He said he doesn’t believe Kerrey will now decide to run.
“Bob Kerrey is a man of integrity,” Hassebrook said in a statement Monday. “He told me as recently as a few days ago that he would assist my campaign. I gave up my seat on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents based on his word. I do not believe he would go back on it.”
But Hassebrook already appeared to have entered the race with less support than Kerrey would have gotten. Had Kerrey run, he would have inherited Nelson’s campaign team and, presumably, much of the nearly $3 million war chest Nelson had amassed.
Hassebrook acknowledged after his announcement that he was scrambling to hire a campaign staff and raise money.
Meanwhile, Republicans weren’t waiting around to see what Kerrey will do. By Monday afternoon, the National Republican Senatorial Committee had put out a statement bashing Kerrey as “a tax-and-spend liberal” and suggesting his re-emergence stems from “backroom deal-making (that) might have taken place between Kerrey and Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid in recent days.”
The GOP’s Senate primary ticket in Nebraska already is crowded. It 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.