View Mobile Site

Sen. Nelson announces retirement

Text Size: Small Large Medium
POSTED December 27, 2011 8:19 p.m.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Democrats on Tuesday lamented Sen. Ben Nelson’s decision to retire rather than seek a third term in Nebraska, fearing the move sets up Republicans for an easy and crucial victory in their effort to reclaim control of the chamber next year.

Nelson, the lone Democrat in Nebraska’s five-member congressional delegation, faced a tough re-election campaign against a large group of Republican challengers who have spent the past several months attacking his support for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and federal stimulus legislation.

Republicans must net four seats to take back the Senate in 2012, and Nebraska looks to be an easy pickup. There are no Democrats in line to take Nelson’s place in the increasingly conservative state. He joins several other Democrats to retire from the Senate, including Virginia’s Jim Webb and North Dakota’s Kent Conrad.

After months of speculation that he would leave office, the 70-year-old conservative Democrat told supporters in an emailed statement he felt it was time he “step away from elective office, spend more time with my family, and look for new ways to serve our state and nation.”

“Therefore, I am announcing today that I will not seek re-election,” he said. “Simply put: It is time to move on.”

Democrats banking on Nelson’s ability to leverage his centrist stances and capture statewide races were left scrambling; many state activists acknowledged being taken by surprise.

While some floated the names of state Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha and Nelson’s former lieutenant governor, Kim Robak, as possible contenders, many said it was too early to know who might run. Messages seeking comment were left for Lathrop and Robak.

A dream candidate for Democrats: former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey. Traveling in India on Tuesday, Kerrey told The Washington Post, “Ben’s retirement is a huge loss for Nebraska. I am very sad he’s leaving. That is as far as I am going (right now).”

Democrats acknowledged the party will face a steep uphill battle to hold on to Nelson’s seat, but pointed to a crowded GOP primary field with no obvious front-runner. The ticket includes Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, state Treasurer Don Stenberg, state Sen. Deb Fischer, and investment adviser Pat Flynn.

“This virtually guarantees a Republican victory in 2012,” said University of Nebraska Lincoln political scientist Mike Wagner. “There’s almost no scenario in which a Democrat can win — especially at this late stage.”

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...