Bob Kerrey says he's no carpetbagger.
The former governor, who has lived 11 years in New York City and is considering a return to his home state to run for his old U.S. Senate seat, argued Friday that he will always be a Nebraskan.
He noted that he was raised in Nebraska, owns two businesses in Nebraska and pays property taxes in the state. He also argued that other politicians, such as former Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, returned to Nebraska and successfully ran for office after living several years out of state.
In the end, however, he said he is comfortable having Nebraskans decide whether he is qualified to represent them in Congress.
"I could relocate to Beijing, China, and die after several years, and I'd die a Nebraskan," Kerrey said.
Kerrey flew into Nebraska for a five-day visit with old friends and others to talk about a potential comeback bid. He made clear that he is seriously considering a return, talking at times like he's already a candidate.
He is considered the Democrats' best hope to retain retiring U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson's seat and, possibly, his party's majority in the Senate.
Kerrey said he expects to make a decision within a week or two.
He is no longer the boyish-looking wunderkind who captivated Nebraskans in 1982 with a long-shot bid for governor. He is now 68, with a crown of silver hair and black reading glasses.
If he runs, Kerrey said, he could be the underdog again.
He noted that he is a new face to a whole generation of Nebraskans. The last time he was on the ballot in Nebraska was in 1994. That means anyone under the age of 35 has never seen his name on a ballot.
History also is not on Kerrey's side.
Only 22 senators in the nation's history have returned to the Senate after leaving for 12 years or more, said Eric Ostermeier, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota who writes the nonpartisan Smart Politics blog.
The last time a senator with a long time gap won re-election was 2010, when former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats cruised to an easy win after more than a decade out.
"It has happened, but it's unusual," Ostermeier said.
If he returns, Kerrey said he would buy a house, but his family would continue to live in New York for the time being. He and his wife, Sarah, have a 10-year-old son in fourth grade.
"We're not going to pull him out of school for political purposes," Kerrey said.
He also said he doubted that his family would ever completely live in Nebraska, saying if he won the election, he expects Henry would go to school in the Washington, D.C., area.
But, he said, he and his wife have long considered buying a home and spending more time in Nebraska. He wants his son to get to know his relatives better, including three aunts and an uncle.
Kerrey said his final decision will rest on whether he feels he has something "unique" to offer Nebraskans.
If he does run, he says it will not be to preserve Democrats' hold on the Senate majority.
"I really can't be talked into this, and I really can't be talked out of it," Kerrey said.
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