Former Sen. Bob Kerrey is widely reported to be reconsidering his decision not to run for Senate in his native Nebraska, a move that could breathe life into the Democrats’ fight to hold onto one of the party’s most vulnerable seats this fall.
Sen. Ben Nelson’s December announcement that he wouldn’t seek re-election left Nebraska Democrats scrambling to find a replacement candidate. Facing a thin talent pool, the party pressed Mr. Kerrey — who represented the state in the Senate for 12 years before retiring in 2001 — to run.
Mr. Kerrey dashed the party’s hopes to keep the seat when, earlier this month, he rejected a comeback bid for the Senate. But on Monday, numerous media outlets, including the Associated Press, reported that former Kerrey campaign manager Paul Johnson had said Mr. Kerrey had told him he was again considering running for the seat.
Nebraska’s Omaha World-Herald also reported that Mr. Kerrey spoke Monday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, fueling speculation that Mr. Kerrey will enter the race. Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, a liberal advocacy group, said she isn’t aware of anyone within the state’s Democratic circles who has refuted the reports or attempted to damp down the rumor mill.
“Essentially, nobody’s denying it,” she said.
Republicans jumped on the news. Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — the fundraising arm of Senate Republicans — speculated that “backroom deal-making” between Mr. Kerrey and Mr. Reid has resulted in the former senator deciding to jump into the race.
“Bob Kerrey isn’t just far more liberal than many of his friends in Washington — he also has far more serious electability problems than Ben Nelson ever did,” Mr. Jesmer said in a memo sent to reporters. “We look forward to Senator Kerrey’s candidacy.”
Mr. Kerrey will have to make up his mind soon, as the filing deadline is Thursday.
Four Democrats and five Republicans so far have filed to run for the seat.
Democrats faced a challenge to win even with Mr. Nelson in the race, which was considered a tossup before the exit of one of their party’s most conservative members. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats, 48 percent to 32 percent, in Nebraska.
But a Kerrey candidacy would face numerous hurdles. He has lived in New York City for more than a decade, which would open up accusations that he has lost touch with Nebraska issues and values. He also would face questions regarding his 2001-to-2010 tenure as president of the New School, a university in New York City that conservatives label a “liberal haven.”
Mr. Kerrey, despite having been a 1992 presidential primary candidate and serving as Nebraska’s governor in the 1980s, also would have limited name recognition among younger and new voters in the state, as he hasn’t been on a Nebraska ballot since 1994.