UPDATE: Bob Kerrey will not make an announcement about his U.S. Senate plans today, according to his campaign manager.
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Leave it to Bob Kerrey to turn Nebraska's political world upside down again.
The former Nebraska governor, known for playing Hamlet on the political stage, was back in the spotlight Monday as word came that he was reconsidering a bid for U.S. Senate — three weeks after he slammed the door on a run.
Kerrey's renewed interest in the Senate race quickly fueled talk, resentment and excitement on both sides of the political aisle.
Some Republicans wondered whether Kerrey was wooed back into the race by national Democrats, who consider Kerrey the party's only shot at keeping the Nebraska seat in Democratic hands and, ultimately, to help keep Democrats in control of the Senate.
“I would bet (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid and the Democrats made him an offer he couldn't refuse,” said Jordan McGrain, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party.
Some Democrats made it clear they weren't happy, notably Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons, Neb.
He ran for Senate rather than seek re-election as an NU regent after Kerrey got out. Hassebrook essentially said Monday that Kerrey's “integrity” is at stake.
“Bob Kerrey is a man of integrity. He told me as recently as a few days ago that he would assist my campaign. 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,” he said.
As for Kerrey, he could make a formal announcement as soon as today.
Paul Johnson, who ran Kerrey's two successful Senate races, said Kerrey had not made up his mind Monday but was “seriously” considering a run.
“He was never comfortable with the decision he had made (not to run), and, ultimately, he decided to revisit it,” Johnson said.
One thing is for sure: Kerrey can't play Hamlet indefinitely — he either is to be a Senate candidate, or he is not.
Kerrey has until 5 p.m. Thursday to file for office.
He has flirted with a Senate bid for much of the past two months, after U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, announced in December that he would not run for re-election. Kerrey kept Nebraskans waiting for weeks, saying at first that he would make a decision quickly, then delaying his decision for several weeks.
He even came back to the state to talk to old supporters and to introduce himself to younger Democrats, sounding like a Senate candidate on the campaign trail.
Then, suddenly, he ended his performance. In one fell swoop, he dashed Democratic designs of holding onto the seat when he fired off an email saying a run was not in his family's best interests.
At the time, nearly three weeks ago, friends and supporters close to Kerrey said his wife, Sarah Paley, had reservations about his possible return to politics. The couple have a 10-year-old son, Henry, and Paley was reportedly concerned about how a campaign might affect their family life.
There also was the question about where the family would live, and how his sudden return to Nebraska would play in a Senate race.
The Kerreys have lived in Greenwich Village for the past 12 years, and Republicans have made plain that they will try to paint Kerrey as a New York carpetbagger.
As for Kerrey, he has countered that he considers himself a Nebraskan. He also has said he would not pull his son out of school in New York City for political purposes and has said that, if he were to win, he would expect his family to live with him in Washington, D.C.
Johnson, the former Kerrey political aide, said the first inkling he got that Kerrey was reconsidering came Friday.
Johnson said he sent Kerrey an email Thursday, chatting about a possible job offer. On Friday, Kerrey called and asked Johnson to hold off on accepting the other job, and to give him the weekend to reconsider.
On Monday, Kerrey reportedly called Reid, the Senate majority leader, and word spread quickly that Kerrey was back on the fence.
This is not Kerrey's first time playing the “will he, or won't he” game in public.
Kerrey, whom reporters once dubbed “Cosmic Bob,” has a tradition of changing his mind on a dime. He is, quite simply, unpredictable.
In the State Capitol, there is a famous story in which then-Gov. Kerrey told reporters that he planned to call a special legislative session.
Reporters rushed to file the story. Shortly after, Kerrey held a press conference and said that he had changed his mind and was “putting the brakes” on the session.
David Kramer, a former Republican Senate candidate, said there is no way to guess what Kerrey will do.
“On Friday morning, I won't be surprised if he's in. And I won't be surprised if he's out. That is quintessential Kerrey,” Kramer said.
If Kerrey gets into the race, Kramer said, it changes the whole dynamic.
There is no question Kerrey is a “first-tier” candidate who will raise excitement and attract national interest and money to the state, Kramer said.
One question raised by Kerrey's suddenly renewed interest in the race is whether he was playing a game with Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, making sure the GOP heavyweight could not get into the race if Kerrey mounted a campaign.
Had Kerrey announced sooner, the pressure would have been on Heineman to get in as the strongest Republican to tackle him. Now, Heineman is out of the picture. As an incumbent, he faced a Feb. 15 deadline to file.
Both Kramer and McGrain said they did not believe Kerrey was playing games.
McGrain said it didn't make sense. Kerrey could simply have waited until after Feb. 15 to make his final announcement.
Kramer said he tended to believe that Kerrey's family — most notably his wife — has had a change of heart.
“When somebody has a passion to do something, it's really hard to get in the way of that passion ... and it's amazing in those kind of circumstances how husbands and wives can work together and address the concerns,” said Kramer, who ran in 2006.
Contact the writer:
Bob Kerrey is no stranger to drawn-out decisions and last-minute surprises. Here are a dozen examples:
A little-known restaurant owner, Democrat Kerrey burst onto Nebraska's political scene by considering a challenge to incumbent Republican Gov. Charles Thone. Eleven months later, he won.
Kerrey announced his support for Colorado U.S. Sen. Gary Hart in the Democratic presidential race, despite having leaned toward endorsing his rival, former Vice President Walter Mondale.
As governor, Kerrey made plans to call a special legislative session to repeal a school consolidation and finance law, only to back off at the last minute.
Kerrey stunned political observers by announcing that he would not seek a second term as govenor.
After more than eight months of indecision following the death of Sen. Ed Zorinsky, Kerrey agreed to run for the Senate seat.
Kerrey, a third-year senator, jumped into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Despite widespread speculation that he would run, Kerrey deferred his decision for months.
Kerrey was the last senator to make up his mind on President Bill Clinton's sweeping economic program of tax increases and spending cuts. His yes vote allowed the plan to pass.
As the 2000 presidential race approached, Kerrey held a press conference in Omaha at which many expected him to announce a run. Instead, he said he would remain in the Senate.
Despite more than $3 million in the bank and strong re-election prospects, Kerrey made what he called “a life decision” to leave the Senate at the end of his second term and move to New York.
Nebraska Democrats waited for Kerrey to decide whether he would return to Nebraska to run for the Senate seat vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel. He skipped the race, citing family considerations.
February 7, 2012
Kerrey said he wouldn't run for Senate to replace retiring Sen. Ben Nelson, a fellow Democrat. Once again, for family reasons.
Feb. 27, 2012
Kerrey allies say he is reconsidering a run.
—Compiled by staff writer
Paul Goodsell and World-Herald reasearcher Jeanne Hauser