What do Democrat Bob Kerrey and Republican Dave Heineman have in common?
The two political big dogs have potential candidates in both of their respective parties waiting and wondering whether either man will jump into Nebraska's U.S. Senate race.
In Kerrey's case, they may know soon. The former governor is bound for Nebraska next week to talk to friends and others about whether he should come "home" for a chance to return to the Senate, he said.
In Heineman's case, Republicans shouldn't wait for an answer.
Nebraska's governor refused to slam shut the door to a possible Senate bid Friday, telling The World-Herald again that he loves his job but is "listening" to Nebraskans who routinely approach him and urge him to run.
"I continue to listen to the people of Nebraska, and every time it comes up, I tell them I believe I have the best job in America . it would take a lot to change my mind," said Heineman, who recounted the two women who stopped him at Thursday's Nebraska women's basketball game and asked him to run.
He also says any Republicans thinking about running should make their own decision, regardless of his plans.
Heineman, 63, noted that he didn't wait to see whether Tom Osborne, the former Nebraska football coach and congressman, jumped into the 2006 governor's race before mounting his own bid.
"Nobody had a tougher primary than me," Heineman said Friday. "To wait on someone else — to me, it doesn't make sense. They ought to have the confidence in their own abilities. And if you really want it and you can demonstrate to the people of Nebraska, 'Here's what I can offer,' then run," said Heineman.
The Senate race here was thrown a twist last month when Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson announced he would not seek re-election. Nelson's decision suddenly made the race a lot more attractive to several potential candidates on both sides of the aisle.
On the Democratic side, there are three potential contenders besides Kerrey. All have political experience. And all three have indicated they would wait to see whether Kerrey runs.
The three: former Lt. Gov. Kim Robak, State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha and Chuck Hassebrook, a member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.
"My expectation would be (that) it would not be a contested primary," said Lathrop.
Kerrey, 68, has lived in New York City since 2001, when he left the Senate after two terms. He says he's not worried about Republicans labeling him a "carpetbagger."
"I'm not the only Nebraskan who has left the state and has a desire to come back," said Kerrey, a born-and-raised Nebraskan who spent much of his adult life in the state.
The big question Kerrey said he has to answer is whether he has the "skills" and "experience" to help put the country back on sound fiscal footing.
"I don't presume for a moment I would automatically win. But I have to persuade myself, if I did win, (that) I could do something others couldn't," he said.
Kerrey is viewed by some national Democrats as their best hope to hold the seat. Nebraska is one of several states that will help decide who controls the Senate.
On the Republican side, several candidates were in the race before Nelson retired, including Attorney General Jon Bruning, State Treasurer Don Stenberg and State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine.
At least one more Republican is leaning toward a run — U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln.
Fortenberry has met with former political advisers and campaign officials. His decision may or may not hinge on Heineman's, but the race would obviously be more attractive to Fortenberry if the governor were not a potential opponent.
Fortenberry, who would have to give up his congressional seat to run, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Heineman has given mixed signals on a potential Senate bid for months, appearing at times to open the door and then, just as suddenly, trying to squash rumors of a run. On Friday, the door was open.
In early December, he told The New York Times that he had been fielding calls from Republican leaders in Washington, urging him to run. He appeared to indicate at the time that he could be persuaded to run.
Later, he rejected suggestions that national GOP leaders had made progress in their attempts to get him in the race. "I think I've been abundantly clear," Heineman said. "I love the job I'm doing."
But political observers and others say it's not easy saying "no" to what would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The U.S. Senate is one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, and Heineman has an opportunity to run when he would be considered the clear front-runner.
Of course, Heineman could be keeping the door open to scare away potential heavyweights like Kerrey.
That potential exists.
However, Kerrey said Heineman's decision would have no impact on his own. Like Heineman, he said, the decision he has to make is whether or not he could be of service to Nebraska and his country.
Heineman would be "a very strong candidate. If I run, and he's my opponent, he'd probably be favored. But it doesn't dissuade me. There are a lot worse things in life than losing elections," said Kerrey, who lost part of a leg in the Vietnam War.
Of course, Kerrey has the upper hand in any game of political chicken.
Heineman, like all Nebraska incumbents, has to file for U.S. Senate by Feb. 15.
Kerrey and other nonincumbents can wait until March 1.
World-Herald staff writer Joseph Morton contributed to this report.
Contact the writer: