Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale on Friday allowed Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bob Kerrey to remain on the state’s May 15 primary ballot, overruling objections by the state Republican Party that Kerrey had repeatedly failed to meet state residency requirements.
Republicans are now vowing to fight that ruling, charging that Kerrey, a last-minute candidate in the race to fill Ben Nelson’s Senate seat, may have broken state law by lying on his voter registration forms in his rush to make the ballot. Kerrey formally announced his run for the Senate seat on Feb. 29, despite saying just three weeks earlier that he had no intentions of joining the race.
Nelson is retiring after his current term expires.
In a bout of maneuvering that Gale described as “troubling,” Kerrey on Feb. 28 listed his place of residency as his sister’s home in Omaha. Less than 24 hours later, he changed his address to the home of a wealthy campaign donor, where he had stayed as a guest.
But Gale noted that Kerrey, who represented Nebraska in the Senate from 1989 to 2001, was actually staying in an Omaha hotel on both Feb. 28 and Feb 29.
“The fact that he bounced from one voter registration one day to another kind of reflected a cavalier attitude about the process,” Gale said in a letter announcing his decision.
But the secretary of state denied Republican efforts to remove Kerrey from the ballot because lower courts have prohibited states from establishing additional residency requirements for federal office beyond those found in the U.S. Constitution, which requires only that Kerrey be a resident of Nebraska after the election.
“I think voters deserve an opportunity to make a decision in this election based on the merits of who is running and who is going to best serve Nebraska,” Kerrey said.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for fair, competitive elections,” Kerrey’s campaign manager, Paul Johnson, said. “The ruling exposes the shameful attempt by Republican leaders to steal an election, instead of letting voters decide.”
State GOP Chairman Mark Fahleson, however, said he will be meeting with a legal team to decide how to respond to Gale’s decision.
“Although we respectfully disagree with Secretary of State Gale’s decision as it relates to placing Bob Kerrey’s name on the ballot, his decision raises some very serious issues regarding Bob Kerrey’s residency and whether he potentially committed a crime when he signed a residency document under oath stating he was a resident at the time he filed those,” Fahleson said.
“The whole thing stinks to high heaven,” Fahleson added.
According to the Nebraska secretary of state’s website, “residence is that place at which you have established a home, where you are habitually present, and to which, when you depart, you intend to return.”
Kerrey’s residency is a hot issue in Nebraska: Republicans have argued that Kerrey is out of touch with voters in the state, because he and his family have lived in New York since he left the Senate in 2001. Kerry, who also served as Nebraska’s governor before beginning his tenure in the Senate, has countered with television advertisements featuring supportive quotes, including “Once a Husker, Always a Husker.”
Republicans have also criticized Kerrey for joining the Senate race so late. Democrat Ben Nelson opted not to run for re-election after his vote for President Barack Obama’s comprehensive healthcare reform law dramatically decreased his popularity in Nebraska.
“After making a backroom deal to get Nebraska’s senior senator to vote for ObamaCare, it appears Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid has made a deal with an even more liberal Democrat Bob Kerrey,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh.
Kerrey will face Democrat Chuck Hassebrook in the primary.