Democratic Nebraska Senate candidate Bob Kerrey may be running in 2012 at the urging of national Democrats in order to help President Obama win Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, according to Nebraska political insiders.
Kerrey, the one-time Nebraska governor and senator and president of the New School in New York City, trails his Republican opponent 38 to 52 percent in a recent statewide poll, conducted for the Democratic group Project New America.
“I’m not running because I need to be a senator. In fact, I barely want to be,” Kerrey told Bloomberg in June.
“At the moment, it’s not likely that anybody who’s going to contribute to me says: ‘I’m going to contribute to him because I think he’s going to win,’” Kerrey said.
However, winning may not be Kerrey’s primary motivation in running for the Senate this year, insiders suggest.
Nebraska is one of two states that allocate electoral votes by congressional district (Maine is the other). Nebraska insiders say that the second district—which includes Omaha and has one electoral vote—is solidly in play, and that Kerrey can help Obama win it.
Kerrey and Obama are coordinating in their campaigns to take advantage of their shared ballot, Nebraska Republican Party executive director Jordan McGrain told the Free Beacon.
“Barack Obama voters are Bob Kerrey voters and vice versa,” McGrain said. “The synergy between the campaigns makes sense. If you’re President Obama and you raise $900 million, you can afford to spend money on the one electoral vote in the second district.”
“Obama won the district 51-49 in 2008,” said Dave Boomer, campaign manager for the second district’s Republican congressman Lee Terry.
“Nebraska is a red state, but the 2nd is an even district in terms of registration. It’s a swing district. In 2008, the Obama campaign went at it very methodically, and they won the district,” Boomer said.
Democratic voter turnout in the district increased from 80,000 to 94,000 between 2004 and 2008, while Republican turnout remained around 94,000 in both elections, according to Boomer.
“President Obama won Congressional District 2 in 2008, and he’s opened an office to win Congressional District 2 again in 2012,” said Erik Mellgren, fundraising director for the Nebraska Democratic Party.
The Obama campaign office in the second district is “a little storefront,” according to Boomer, but it will be ground zero for what Boomer predicts will be a “major effort, a huge ground war with paid staff” on the Obama campaign’s part.
“At this point in time, Obama, Kerrey, and our opponent in the congressional race are pretty much running as a team in Omaha,” Boomer said.
Democratic leaders reportedly pushed onetime presumptive Democratic nominee Chuck Hassebrook out of the Senate race in favor of Kerrey.
Hassebrook was “clearly upset” when Kerrey changed his mind and decided to run for the Senate, Nebraska Watchdog reported in March.
“Bob Kerrey is a man of integrity. I gave up my seat on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents based on his word. I do not believe he would go back on it,” Hassebrook said at the time.
Hassebrook later endorsed Kerrey, saying he had “moved on” from his hurt feelings and that he would not hold a “grudge.”
“To win in Nebraska, Democrats have to recruit independent votes and recruit some Republican votes, as well. Bob Kerrey is seen as being independent and he has a lot of goodwill on both sides of the aisle in this state,” Mellgren said.
“Obama was pulling ahead in the polls in the spring in Congressional District 1. He’s going to drive Democrats out to the polls for other Democratic candidates like Bob Kerrey, and I think considering Bob Kerrey’s record and his position on the national stage, that will work both ways,” Mellgren says.
Omaha is clearly the focus of Democratic hopes in Nebraska.
The Obama for America-Nebraska Grand Office Opening was held “less than a year” before the November 2012 election.
The Obama campaign office is identified as existing “Right next door to the headquarters from 2008! The office faces cass (sic) street on 76th, directly right behind the Kwik shop.”
The Bob Kerrey campaign, meanwhile, held a primary election night party May 15 at the Omaha Hilton on Cass Street.
The Obama campaign’s grand office opening was planned in coordination with a group called “Omaha for Obama: Split the Electoral Votes,” which describes itself as an organization that “is for those who want to be able to help deliver Nebraska's Second District for Obama.”
Kerrey—who has lived in New York City for more than a decade—purchased a house in Omaha for $225,000 in May, after previously squatting in a donor’s guesthouse in order to fulfill Nebraska residency requirements for his campaign. The Kerrey campaign is based in Omaha, according to the campaign’s website.
The Obama 2012 campaign promoted a “Canvass in Omaha” event on May 12, 2012 in advance of the state’s Democratic presidential primary.
“We've never taken our eyes off the ball here in Nebraska: Obama supporters are at it every day, recruiting volunteers and registering voters. … Our strong network of volunteers and supporters in Omaha are going door to door leading up to the primary here in Nebraska,” read the promotional message from Zack Burgin, Nebraska State Director for Obama for America.
The canvassing event was based in Omaha’s Elmwood Park, where Omaha native and Obama crony Warren Buffett famously set up a golf ball stand in the 1940s.
“[Romney] should be concerned. #Obamaha isn’t messing around,” Burgin tweeted on May 24.
Burgin and the executive director of the Douglas County Democratic Party partnered with the College Democrats at University of Nebraska at Omaha to launch a student voter pledge in November 2011—an event featured on the Obama campaign website.
Burgin, who has worked for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, has participated in volunteer recruitment events with the University of Nebraska at Omaha College Democrats since at least 2010.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha College Democrats have “spent thousands of hours volunteering on political campaigns since the ’04 presidential race; both local and national,” according to the group’s website.
However, Republicans doubt whether Kerrey will be able to mobilize Omaha college students, as Democrats seem to hope.
“It’s hard for me to believe that a bunch of kids at the University of Nebraska at Omaha are going to be motivated by a 69-year-old New Yorker with no clear message, if any message at all,” McGrain said, referring to Kerrey’s time away in New York.
Despite the Obama-Kerrey team’s focus on Omaha and the second congressional district, Republicans say they feel confident that the Romney campaign will open an office in the district and fight for the Nebraska Republicans below him on the ballot.
“The Romney campaign has committed to having a presence in the second district. The RNC and the state party will have a presence. So the second district is not going to fly under the radar this time like it did in 2008 when John McCain didn’t spend any money here at all,” McGrain said.
The Kerrey campaign did not return a request for comment.