Senator Ben Nelson is loved by few outside of his home state of Nebraska. Many consider the former Governor a DINO (Democrat in name only). But given that he comes from a decidedly red part of the country, Nelson is somewhat of an enigma. He, himself, claims to be an independent and his voting record often resembles that of a Republican. Today, Nelson announced that he was retiring.
Nelson was instrumental in getting Obamacare passed. He was one of the last of the sixty Senate Democratic holdouts to vote in favor of President Obama’s signature piece of legislation. But it came at a price. His ‘Yea’ vote came with a few million dollars worth of concessions for Nebraska attached to it. It became known as the ‘Cornhusker kickback‘. And the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee spent several millions to ensure that he gets re-elected despite his dismally low poll numbers. And after all that, Nelson announces he is going to retire next year giving Democrats little time to replace him. Nelson is less loved than Joe Lieberman, who had sense enough to abandon the party to become an independent several years ago.
So just who is Ben Nelson? A blue dog Democrat? A Republican in donkey clothing? Or is he truly an Independent who has played everybody for fools?
Nelson has been an albatross around the Democrat’s neck for some time. Often voting against his party in congress, he embodies the definition of a blue dog Democrat. But that may be a survival skill. Nebraska is a decidedly Republican state even though the district which includes Omaha went for Obama in 2008 (Nebraska and Maine are the two states that allocate their electoral votes independently rather than ‘winner take all’ like the rest of the country).
This has been a trend recently in the midwest as North Dakota loses all its Democratic Congress members with the retirement of Kent Conrad this year. Now the flyover states look to become all red country.
Nelson’s prospects weren’t all that promising to begin with. It’s possible he would have lost his seat anyway. As we noted in an earlier article, the only saving grace would have been fallout from a highly contentious race for the Republican challengers, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, state Treasurer Don Stenberg, state Senator Deb Fischer, and investment adviser Pat Flynn, combined with a big PR push from the Obama administration.
State Senator Steve Lathrop of Omaha and Nelson’s former lieutenant governor, Kim Robak are possible Democratic contenders but the most likely replacement for Nelson is former Senator Bob Kerrey. Lawrence O’Donnell called and awakened Kerrey while he was in India to ask him if he would consider running. It appears that he may do so. But Kerrey isn’t a fan of the Obama administration and the feeling is mutual from most reports. Still, with the loss of Conrad, it’s likely that the Obama administration would welcome any opportunity to maintain a majority in the Senate. But will he be trading one Vichy* official for another?
The good news is that this won’t affect much in the Senate races. Nate Silver lists six states as toss-ups; Wisconsin, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Virginia. Massachusetts appears to be leaning heavily in favour of Elizabeth Warren which leaves five seats the Republicans would need to pick up to change the Senate balance. So the Democrats can afford to lose North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, and maybe Missouri and still hold on to the Senate. If the President does well next year then Tim Kaine and Tammy Baldwin would probably fair well in Virginia and Wisconsin.
Why did Nelson wait so long to make his exit strategy known? The DSCC spent over a million dollars to protect this seat. Oh right, that only works to Nelson’s advantage. There are a couple of things you can say about Ben Nelson: one is that he is the most reviled Democrat in the party, and the other is that he has done what he thought was right for Nebraska and himself. That may qualify him as a genuine independent. If only he hadn’t done it at everybody else’s expense. The general consensus amongst Democrats is ‘Don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya’.
Where is Chuck Hagel when you need him?
- More Than $1.5 Million Wasted On Him (huffingtonpost.com)
- Democrats’ Worst Non-Lieberman Senator Will Also Retire [Exits] (gawker.com)
- Nelson’s Retirement Opens Seat to GOP (Huffingon Post)
- Ben Nelson Retiring, the ‘Kickback’ Kicks Back (swampland.time.com)
- You: Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska won’t seek third term (latimes.com)