Jon Bruning confirmed Thursday that he is "strongly considering" an 11th-hour bid for the Republican nomination for governor.
"I've been getting phone calls and text messages all day asking me to consider the race," he said. "My phone has been exploding."
If Bruning runs, he said, he will be a different man from the candidate who lost in a stunning defeat to Deb Fischer in the 2012 U.S. Senate race.
"A new dynamic with me is two big pieces of humble pie I've gotten in the last 18 months: my cancer scare and losing the race," he said.
Bruning, 44, underwent colon cancer surgery Dec. 12. Because the cancer was caught early and had not spread, he did not have to undergo chemotherapy. He had eight inches of his colon removed and more than a dozen lymph nodes.
The cancer scare has helped him put his life in perspective, he said.
"In some ways, it decreases your fear when you think about your own mortality. It makes you realize what you really care about: family, friends and your state."
Bruning said he won't rush the decision. A big factor is whether he wants to give up his post as Nebraska attorney general. He had already announced a run for re-election.
But he does not have long to decide: Under state law, he must file for the office by Feb. 18.
Several people active in Republican politics said Wednesday that Bruning has told them he has begun contacting possible donors and potential campaign workers to see if they would be on board.
Bruning could not run both for governor and for re-election. If he does jump into the governor's race, Republicans would have to quickly find candidates to run for attorney general.
That is already happening, The World-Herald learned, as political operatives and others have reached out to potential attorney general candidates.
He could be a formidable candidate in the governor's race. The longtime attorney general has high name recognition, and in a crowded field of generally lesser-known candidates, Bruning might have a considerable edge, even though the others have been campaigning for a year or more.
Bruning would have money to run, even with a late entry. He had more than $800,000 in his attorney general campaign fund as of the last reporting period — funds that could be used in a campaign for governor.
Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts is currently considered the front-runner, but nobody has clearly broken out of the pack, with less than four months to the May 13 primary.
Bruning was considered the leading candidate in the Senate primary in 2012, but his campaign lost momentum, and he eventually lost the race to now-U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer.
If he runs for governor, he will face an old foe — Ricketts.
Ricketts' father, J. Joe Ricketts, launched a series of critical television advertisements against Bruning in the final days of the 2012 primary campaign. Joe Ricketts is the founder of TD Ameritrade.
A Bruning candidacy would be another twist in the governor's race.
Several people have either flirted with running, or jumped in and then jumped out.
Two of the earliest potential candidates dropped their bids: former State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk and former Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy.
Flood got out because of his wife's cancer. Sheehy never ran because of revelations over his use of a state cellphone.
Falls City businessman and rancher Charles Herbster also dropped out, citing his wife's illness, prompting State Sen. Beau McCoy to run with the help of Herbster's campaign coffers and campaign staff.
The other current GOP governor candidates are State Sen. Tom Carlson, State Auditor Mike Foley, State Sen. Charlie Janssen and Bryan Slone.
Chuck Hassebrook is the lone Democrat in the race.