Analysis: Could Heineman’s jabs at Nelson impact the race?
December 9th, 2011
Omaha, NE – The political rhetoric is heating up between Senator Ben Nelson and Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. But neither of the two is officially running for office in 2012. Robyn Wisch checked in with Nebraska Watchdogâ€™s Joe Jordan for a look at the race for U.S. Senate in this weekâ€™s segment of Your Government at Work.
RW: So although weâ€™re not quite there, it sounded a lot like an election year this week. Governor Heineman and Senator Nelson have been lobbying accusations back and forth. Letâ€™s take a listen to some of what we heard from the two this week. Hereâ€™s Governor Dave Heineman in a news conference with reporters on Tuesday re-visiting the well-hashed topic of Senator Nelsonâ€™s vote for the Presidentâ€™s healthcare plan.
â€œI think it would be appropriate for Senator Nelson, in his final year in office, to admit he made a mistake and introduce a bill to repeal Obamacare,â€ Heineman said. â€œAnd itâ€™d be a great Christmas present for Nebraska if he could go ahead and get that done before Christmas.â€
RW: The next day, Senator Nelson fired back and said the Governor was cow towing to Republican leaders who apparently have been pushing him to run for Senate.
â€œAnd let me assure you Daveâ€™s partisan showboating has no bearing on my decision,â€ Nelson said. â€œSo until I decide to be a candidate, I donâ€™t have to, and Iâ€™m not going to play politics with the Governor.â€
RW: So of course, as we heard, Senator Nelson hasnâ€™t yet said if he will be running for Senate. And he also says he doesnâ€™t think Governor Heineman is planning to run, and heâ€™s just trying to influence his decision. If this is an attempt by the Governor to scare Nelson off, how effective do you think that could be?
JJ: In the end, I think Ben Nelsonâ€™s going to do whatever Ben Nelson wants to do. I donâ€™t think Ben Nelson is necessarily concerned with a run against Dave Heineman. Some top Democratic operatives Iâ€™ve spoken with in the last week were quick to point out that Dave Heinemanâ€™s never had a campaign where anyone ran a negative ad against him. Now that doesnâ€™t mean that Nelson would beat him, but Heineman wouldnâ€™t come out of it unscathed. Some issues would come up like the state home in Beatrice, where there have been deaths and violence, and patients have been abused. Youâ€™d hear about that. Youâ€™d hear about the problems with HHS and the child welfare problems in the state that have occurred. So the Democrats, I donâ€™t think, are shy of taking on Dave Heineman.
That said, Heineman would certainly be the favorite going in. But thatâ€™s why you have a campaignâ€¦ What youâ€™re going to hear, whether itâ€™s Heineman or whoever it is, Don Stenberg, Deb Fischer or Jon Bruning, is Obamacare, Nelson was the 60th vote, Cornhusker kickback, those are going to be the recurring themes.
At the same time, Iâ€™ve got to believe that most people in the state know those things, and theyâ€™ve sort of made up their mind whether theyâ€™re going to vote for Nelson on those issues. Somewhere in the middle thereâ€™s probably about 20 percent of the electorate thatâ€™s still somewhat undecided. And the race will be determined by those people in the end, which way they want to go.
RW: Letâ€™s take a look at the race so far with some of the declared candidates you mentioned. Nelson faces a tough battle whether or not Heineman enters the race. And out of the declared candidates, is there anyone you think is pulling ahead as a formidable force?
Watch Nebraska Watchdog’s interview with Don Stenberg:
JJ: Two months ago, everyone suspected Jon Bruning was the one to beat. But Bruningâ€™s had a rough summer and fall. He, in effect, changed his media team because that apparently wasnâ€™t working for him. Some questions have been raised about how much money heâ€™s made while heâ€™s been attorney general, outside of the attorney general salary. Don Stenberg has joined forces with Sen. Jim De Mint, who has sort of taken on Stenberg as a conservative cause celeb, trying to help him raise money, and get conservatives in the state to jump on Stenbergâ€™s bandwagon.
Watch Nebraska Watchdog’s interview with Deb Fischer:
And Deb Fischerâ€¦ she didnâ€™t raise a lot of money in that first quarter that she was an official candidate. Sheâ€™s going to have to put some money together to get this thing going.
Odds are, right now, itâ€™s still Bruningâ€™s race to lose. But if you look back over the past several weeks, heâ€™s been trying to lose it a little bit at a time here.
RW: And on the Democratic side, if Senator Nelson decides not to run, is there anyone waiting in the wings ready to go?
JJ: No one is waiting in the wings. But I suspect, and I actually havenâ€™t had a chance to talk to him about this yet, but I suspect if Ben Nelson says heâ€™s not running, what youâ€™re quickly going to see is an effort on the part of some Democrats in the state to get Bob Kerrey to come back to Nebraska and run for the Senate. Now Kerrey thought about that a couple of years ago, taking on Mike Johanns, decided in the end to stay in New York and not do it. Could that change? It could. But I guarantee you, if Nelson were to say tomorrow that heâ€™s not running, somebodyâ€™s going to start floating Bob Kerreyâ€™s name quickly. Because after that, there really isnâ€™t anyone else on the horizon.
*Update: Nebraska Watchdog interviewed Bob Kerrey, and asked him directly if he’d consider a run. Check out the interview here.*
RW: Well, weâ€™ll keep watching. And hopefully weâ€™ll know who to watch relatively soon. As always Joe, thanks for joining us.
Thank you Robyn. I appreciate it. Have a good day.