Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, one of the Senate’s most moderate — and politically vulnerable — Democrats, announced Tuesday he won’t seek a third term in office next year, saying it was “time to move on.”
Mr. Nelson’s pending retirement leaves Democrats scrambling to find a replacement candidate less than a year before the November election. The move also puts Republicans, who already had targeted the seat as a potential pickup, in even better position to win and inch closer to taking control of the Senate.
The senator, who announced his decision to voters in an email that included a short video, said it was “time for me to step away from elected office, spend more time with my family and look for new ways to serve our state and nation.”
Mr. Nelson also used his nearly two-minute address to condemn “radicals” on both ends of the political spectrum and called for greater bipartisan cooperation in Congress, where partisan rancor has escalated in recent years.
“I encourage those who follow in my footsteps to look for common ground and to work together in bipartisan ways to do what’s best for the country, not just one political party,” he said.
“Public office is a place for public service, not personal profit. It’s about promoting the common good, not the agenda of the radical right or the radical left. It’s about fairness for all, not privileges for the few. And it’s about protecting the rights of individuals, even if it angers the majority.”
President Obama on Tuesday praised Mr. Nelson’s longtime penchant for reaching across the partisan aisle.
“Over the course of his career, Ben’s commitment to working with both Democrats and Republicans across a broad range of issues is a trait far too often overlooked in today’s politics,” Mr. Obama said. “Michelle and I commend Ben for his service, and wish him and his family well in the future.”
Mr. Nelson, who served as Nebraska’s governor for eight years before his election to the Senate in 2000, generally has been a popular politician during his two-decade statewide political career. But as the lone Democrat in the state’s five-member congressional coalition, his moderate views are increasingly at odds with conservatives in his state and nationwide.
The senator particularly came under attack in late 2009 when he cast a pivotal vote of support for Mr. Obama’s health care reform measure. Mr. Nelson also was derided by Republicans for the ill-fated “Cornhusker Kickback,” a provision he tried to include into the health care law that would have given Nebraska a special Medicaid arrangement that guaranteed it more federal dollars than other states.
The Democratic Party has poured a significant amount of money and resources into Mr. Nelson’s re-election efforts, banking that a victory in Nebraska would help the party hold on to its tenuous 53 to 47 caucus in the Senate.
Several formidable GOP candidates from the state government already are running for the seat, including Attorney General Jon Bruning, Treasurer Don Stenberg and Sen. Deb Fischer.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm of Senate Democrats, said Tuesday that a crowded and divisive Republican primary for the seat “will provide an opportunity for Democrats to remain competitive.”