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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.