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 Watchdog’s Joe Jordan for a look at the race for U.S. Senate in this week’s segment of Your Government at Work.

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Senator Nelson called Governor Heineman's comments this week "partisan showboating." (Photo courtesy U.S. Senate)

RW: So although we’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. Let’s take a listen to some of what we heard from the two this week. Here’s Governor Dave Heineman in a news conference with reporters on Tuesday re-visiting the well-hashed topic of Senator Nelson’s vote for the President’s healthcare plan.

“I 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,” Heineman said. “And it’d be a great Christmas present for Nebraska if he could go ahead and get that done before Christmas.”

Gov. Dave Heineman told reporters Tuesday he's received "persuasive" calls from Republican leaders in Washington, urging him to run for Senate. (Photo courtesy State of Nebraska)

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.

“And let me assure you Dave’s partisan showboating has no bearing on my decision,” Nelson said. “So until I decide to be a candidate, I don’t have to, and I’m not going to play politics with the Governor.”

RW: So of course, as we heard, Senator Nelson hasn’t yet said if he will be running for Senate. And he also says he doesn’t think Governor Heineman is planning to run, and he’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 Nelson’s going to do whatever Ben Nelson wants to do. I don’t think Ben Nelson is necessarily concerned with a run against Dave Heineman. Some top Democratic operatives I’ve spoken with in the last week were quick to point out that Dave Heineman’s never had a campaign where anyone ran a negative ad against him. Now that doesn’t mean that Nelson would beat him, but Heineman wouldn’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. You’d hear about that. You’d hear about the problems with HHS and the child welfare problems in the state that have occurred. So the Democrats, I don’t think, are shy of taking on Dave Heineman.

That said, Heineman would certainly be the favorite going in. But that’s why you have a campaign… What you’re going to hear, whether it’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, I’ve got to believe that most people in the state know those things, and they’ve sort of made up their mind whether they’re going to vote for Nelson on those issues. Somewhere in the middle there’s probably about 20 percent of the electorate that’s still somewhat undecided. And the race will be determined by those people in the end, which way they want to go.

RW: Let’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 Bruning’s had a rough summer and fall. He, in effect, changed his media team because that apparently wasn’t working for him. Some questions have been raised about how much money he’s made while he’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 Stenberg’s bandwagon.

Watch Nebraska Watchdog’s interview with Deb Fischer:

And Deb Fischer… she didn’t raise a lot of money in that first quarter that she was an official candidate. She’s going to have to put some money together to get this thing going.

Odds are, right now, it’s still Bruning’s race to lose. But if you look back over the past several weeks, he’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 haven’t had a chance to talk to him about this yet, but I suspect if Ben Nelson says he’s not running, what you’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 he’s not running, somebody’s going to start floating Bob Kerrey’s name quickly. Because after that, there really isn’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, we’ll keep watching. And hopefully we’ll know who to watch relatively soon. As always Joe, thanks for joining us.

Thank you Robyn. I appreciate it. Have a good day.

One Response

  1. Toby Gillis says:

    Always interesting to hear Liberals interviewing Liberals only on Nebraska politics…

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