LINCOLN — To no one's surprise, Attorney General Jon Bruning tossed his hat into the ring for the 2012 U.S. Senate race.
Bruning's announcement Friday came 19 hours after Gov. Dave Heineman, the state's leading Republican, announced he would forgo a possible race to unseat U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, the state's leading Democrat.
Bruning, at a Capitol rotunda news conference, announced that he had formed an exploratory committee to solicit input from Nebraskans and raise campaign funds for the race. He said he could not envision a scenario in which he would not run.
“I want to run, and I'm ready to run,” the 41-year-old said. “Nebraska needs to replace Ben Nelson.”
Bruning is expected to be the first of a handful of Republicans in the race.
Don Stenberg, a former attorney general who was elected state treasurer on Tuesday, has said he would give the race serious consideration. He said Friday that's Bruning's intentions won't affect his decision.
“If I become convinced that I'm the best Republican leader in Nebraska to go to Washington to help take our country, then I will run,” Stenberg said.
A handful of others, including Omaha multimillionaire Pete Ricketts, who lost a 2006 bid to Nelson, also have been mentioned.
Nelson, politically wounded after casting the decisive 60th vote for the federal health-care law, already has about $1.4 million for a re-election run. Some speculate, however, that the 69-year-old former governor may decide against seeking a third six-year term.
Both Bruning and Heineman won landslide re-election bids Tuesday.
But the governor dropped a post-election bombshell Thursday when he said he would not seek Nelson's seat. Heineman had said earlier that he might take six months to decide.
“The Senate's not my cup of tea,” Heineman said at his press conference. “I have the best job in America. Why would I give that up?”
A spokesman for Nelson said Thursday that Heineman's decision to stay out of the race has no bearing on whether the senator will run.
Just days after the 2010 elections, it's really too early to discuss 2012, said Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson.
“What will determine it for him is whether the people of Nebraska want him to serve another term and if he wants to seek one,” Thompson said.
Political observers had long expected Bruning to run if Heineman didn't. And Bruning wasted no time.
“The reason I'm here today is that I didn't want to play games with this,” Bruning said. “I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited.”.