If Bob Kerrey runs for Senate, can he save the majority for Democrats?

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) of Nebraska has until Thursday to decide whether to try for his old seat, being vacated by Sen. Ben Nelson. Even if he does, Nebraska has shifted to the right since he last served.

Evan Vucci/AP/File
In this June 2004 file photo, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey speaks in Washington. More than a decade after he left Nebraska for New York City, Kerrey has until Thursday to decide whether to try for his old Senate seat.

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) of Nebraska has until Thursday to decide whether to mount an 11th-hour bid run to regain the US Senate seat he once held – a move that many analysts believe would give Democrats their best shot at holding onto that seat and their Senate majority in a tough campaign season.

Famously unpredictable, Mr. Kerrey stunned Nebraskans when he opted not to run for a second term as governor in 1986. His decision to bow out of the US Senate after two terms in 2000 also came as a shocker.

Just three weeks ago, Kerrey said he would not run for the US Senate, citing family concerns. He also lives in New York City, raising doubts as to whether he would qualify for residency.

Still, even the rumor that the popular governor and two-term senator might enter the race has fired up the campaign arm of the Senate Republicans. Thursday is the filing deadline for candidates.

"To be sure, this isn’t the first time Kerrey has flirted with a return to public life after leaving the Senate many years ago,” said Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement Monday afternoon. “In 2005, for example, he very publicly considered a run for New York City mayor saying, 'this is now my city….' ” 

Concerns are also being raised by Democrat Chuck Hasselbrook, who resigned his seat on the University of Nebraska’s Board of Regents to get into the US Senate race. In a statement, Mr. Hasselbrook said Kerrey “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,” he added. “I do not believe he would go back on it.”

Even if Kerrey were to enter the race, a win would not be a slam dunk, political analysts say. Nebraska has swung conservative and retiring Sen. Ben Nelson (D) has often voted with Republicans, in a nod to voter sensibilities back home.

“It’s a very different state than the state he ran in the last time, and he’s got a lot of potential liabilities that he never had before,” says Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the Cook Political Report. “Not the least of which is his residency in the state of New York, which is about as far from Nebraska as you can get without leaving the country.”

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