The Obamaha Stakes

Nebraska Democratic Senate candidate Bob Kerrey denies coordination with Obama presidential campaign

Bob Kerrey / AP Images
August 17, 2012

Democratic Nebraska Senate candidate Bob Kerrey is denying coordination between his campaign and President Obama’s re-election effort in Nebraska’s second Congressional district.

Nebraska, along with Maine, is one of only two states that award electoral votes by congressional district. Obama won Nebraska’s second district, which includes Kerrey’s home base of Omaha, in 2008, capturing its Electoral College vote.

Former Sen. Kerrey was handpicked to run this year by national Democrats in part to help Obama capture the second district’s electoral vote, the Washington Free Beacon first reported in June.

However, Kerrey now claims that he has been receiving almost no help from the Obama campaign.

"I’m not involved with the president’s campaign," Kerrey told Nebraska Radio Network Tuesday.

"I think, correctly, [Obama] sized up Nebraska and [decided] it’s not likely he’s going to win it and Iowa is a battleground state. So, I presume that’s why he’s over in Iowa," Kerrey said, referring to Obama’s three-day campaign visit to Iowa this week.

Kerrey also said it was "unlikely" that the president would campaign for him in Omaha. He told Nebraska Watchdog last week that the Obama campaign is "not doing anything in the second congressional district."

"They had an organized effort in 2008," Kerrey said. "[In 2012] it is a very secretive organization if they have one, but I haven’t seen it, so I think they’re doing nothing."

Republicans disagreed.

"Obviously at this point it’s all about the electoral vote. It’s not really about Bob Kerrey winning the Senate," Douglas County Republican Party chairman Scott Petersen told the Free Beacon. "Democrats don’t have a chance to win the Senate race, but they have a chance to win that electoral vote."

"I’ll take Bob Kerrey on his word that there might not be coordination right now, but there’s certainly an Obama campaign office in Omaha," Nebraska Republican Party executive director Jordan McGrain told the Free Beacon. He noted that the second district’s Democratic congressional candidate, John Ewing, attended the Obama rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The Obama campaign office is located on 76th Street in Omaha, facing the street where Kerrey held his primary election night party May 15. The office’s grand opening was planned with the help of a group called "Omaha for Obama: Split the Electoral Votes."

"There’s definitely an Obama presence. Everybody understands the importance of the second district’s electoral vote, which is why Romney and the NEGOP opened an office in the district this week," executive director McGrain said.

The Obama campaign has held high-profile canvassing events in Omaha and student voter drives at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where Kerrey—a former president of the New School in New York City—is presumed to have considerable support.

"Omaha is probably the only pocket of liberalism in Nebraska because of the college campus," Petersen said.

Kerrey’s recent complaints may have been a head fake to kill the coordination story, he suggested.

"Obama and the [national] Democrats will have all the money they need for campaigning. So would you take a chance and not go after every electoral vote?" Petersen said. "That more than anything is the only reason that [Kerrey] is running."

Publicly, Republicans are taking Kerrey’s claims at face value, and are using the reported rift to their advantage.

Obama landed at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska during his Midwest campaign trip this week, but promptly left the state and travelled by ground to Iowa to begin campaigning.

The Nebraska Republican Party seized on the snub, issuing a press release that claimed the president had more important things to do than visit "fledgling US Senate candidate Bob Kerrey."

"[Obama and Kerrey] agree on every issue in this election cycle. They have a lot of similar policy positions and objectives, in terms of what they want to accomplish. So it was strange to us that Obama would land in Nebraska and not do a photo-op with Bob Kerrey at the pedestrian bridge named for him in downtown Omaha," McGrain said.

The Kerrey campaign did not return a request for comment.