Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) announced over the holiday weekend that he will not run for his state’s open US Senate seat next year, ending more than 13 weeks of political speculation concerning his decision. Heineman said he believed a campaign would take away from serving his final 18 months as governor but, at least at one point, claimed he was very close to becoming a federal candidate.
Heineman’s decision now opens up what should be a fierce campaign to replace one-term Sen. Mike Johanns (R), a former governor and US Agriculture Secretary, who decided not to seek re-election. All potential candidates had been awaiting Heineman’s decision, because his popularity is such that no person in either party is likely to defeat him.
The Democrats are in the more precarious position because they are now staring at two open statewide races with a depleted political bench. Former two-term senator and governor Bob Kerrey returned to the state last year and went down to an ignominious 58-42 percent defeat at the hands of then state senator Deb Fischer (R). The result left the Democrats in a politically moribund state as Kerrey was always viewed as the party’s best possible standard bearer. For him to lose as badly as he did to a state legislator in what should have been a strong Democratic year, casts major doubt over the party’s 2014 prospects.
That being said, the Democrats will likely concentrate on the open gubernatorial campaign, a position more important to party leaders. Heineman, who will be the longest-serving governor in the state’s history (10 years at the end of his term), is ineligible to seek re-election. At this point, the Democrats’ strongest candidate may be Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler. He will likely run statewide, but probably as a gubernatorial candidate, thus by-passing the Senate contest. Beyond Beutler, their options are few.
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