Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey to Run in Nebraska

Democrat Bob Kerrey, a former Nebraska senator and governor, said he will run for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat, boosting his party’s chances of winning it and retaining control of the chamber in this fall’s election.

Kerrey, who has lived in New York City since leaving the Senate in 2001, reversed his Feb. 7 decision not to run in the contest to replace retiring Democratic Senator Ben Nelson.

“Doing things the conventional way has never been my strong suit,” Kerrey, who made his announcement one day ahead of the candidate filing deadline, said in a statement. “This afternoon, I will file to become a candidate for the United States Senate in Nebraska.”

Republicans had been favored to pick up the seat because Democrats were hampered in their candidate recruiting and the voters in the state have been electing Republicans. Nelson is now the only Democrat holding statewide elective office in Nebraska.

Democrats control the U.S. Senate, 53-47, and are defending 23 of the 33 seats on the ballot this year. Nelson’s retirement, announced in December, made him the seventh incumbent Democrat to decide not to seek re-election in 2012.

Kerrey made his announcement a day after Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine, a three-term U.S. senator who at times votes with Democrats, said in a statement that she won’t seek re-election in November. Her decision, viewed as hampering her party’s chances to take control of the Senate, came two weeks before Maine’s March 15 filing deadline for candidates. The primary election in the state will be held June 12.

Left in 2001

Kerrey left the Senate in 2001 after two six-year terms. His departure made way for Nelson’s rise.

Kerrey’s decision to run raises Democrats’ hopes of keeping the seat although his push to return to power in Washington won’t be easy, said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. While Kerrey has name recognition and an ability to raise funds, he’s running in a Republican-trending state, Gonzales said.

“He’s still a Democrat in Nebraska, and I don’t think that puts him in a strong early position,” Gonzales said. He also said Kerrey’s time living outside the state will leave him open to claims of being a “carpetbagger.”

“I think Republicans are going to make ‘New York City’ Bob Kerrey’s middle name,” he said.

‘Loyal’ Obama Supporter

The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a statement today saying, “As Nebraskans reacquaint themselves with Kerrey they will quickly recognize that living in Greenwich Village for so many years tends to change a person.” The statement called Kerrey “a loyal supporter of the Obama agenda.”

Kerrey, 68, served in the Navy SEAL special-forces unit from 1966 to 1969. He lost part of his right leg during the Vietnam War and was awarded the Medal of Honor. He served as governor of Nebraska from 1983 to 1987 and was elected to the Senate a year later.

He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, making a national health insurance overhaul his central campaign issue. His proposal would have allowed the government to create a publicly run health system.

In the Senate, he served on the Finance, Agriculture and Intelligence panels and was co-chair of national commissions that presented bipartisan plans for overhauling Medicare and restructuring the Internal Revenue Service.

New School’s President

After leaving the Senate, Kerrey was president of the New School, a university in New York City, for nine years. He is now its president emeritus and also serves on the boards of Tenet Healthcare Corp., Jones Group Inc. and Scientific Games Corp.

Republicans vying for the Senate seat include Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning; Don Stenberg, the state’s treasurer and former attorney general; and state Senator Deb Fischer.

Democrats who are candidates for Nelson’s seat include Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs; Steven Lustgarten, a video producer; and Larry Marvin, who lost a Senate bid in 2008.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE