Nelson won't seek reelection

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December 26, 2011 - 6:00pm

Nebraska U.S. Senator Ben Nelson announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election next year.

Nelson made his announcement in video released by his campaign. In it, the two-term Democratic senator touted his accomplishments. He said those included opening new markets for agriculture and manufacturing, building veterans health care and university research facilities, and securing the future of STRATCOM, the strategic command at Offutt Air Force Base.

Then Nelson added "There is much more that needs to be done to keep America strong. And while I relish the opportunity to undertake the work that lies ahead, I also feel it's time for me to step away from elective office, spend more time with my family, and look for new ways to serve our state and nation. Therefore, I am announcing today that I will not seek reelection. Simply put: It is time to move on."

Nelson has been targeted by Republicans for supplying a crucial 60th vote to break a filibuster against health care reform legislation in 2009. That came after Nebraska got an exemption from future Medicaid cost increases that critics dubbed the "Cornhusker Kickback." The exemption was later removed.

As word of his decision to retire filtered out, Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Mark Fahleson issued a statement declaring "For once Senator Nelson has listened to Nebraskans. The Nebraska Republican Party is more focused than ever on electing another conservative Republican to join Sen. Mike Johanns and recapturing the U.S. Senate so that we can reverse the damage done by Ben Nelson, Washington Democrats and the Obama Administration."

So far, Republican Attorney General Jon Bruning, State Treasurer Don Stenberg, and state Senator Deb Fischer have already announced their candidacies for the GOP nomination, along with investment advisor Pat Flynn and Air Force veteran and truck driver Spencer Zimmerman. On the Democratic side, Air Force Veteran Larry Marvin has filed, and others are expected now.

Nelson had some words of advice for the candidates: "I encourage those who will follow in my footsteps to look for common ground and to work together in bipartisan ways to do what's best for the country, not just one political party," he said. "Public office is a place for public service, not personal profit. It's about promoting the common good, not the agenda of the radical right or the radical left. It's about fairness for all, not privileges for the few. And, it's about protecting the rights of individuals, even if it angers the majority."

Following Nelson's announcement, President Barack Obama thanked him for his service, calling his commitment to working with both Democrats and Republicans "a trait too often overlooked in today's politics."

Nelson established one of the most conservative records of any Democrat in the Senate. He supported then-President George W. Bush's tax cuts, and voted against one of Obama's Supreme Court nominees, Elena Kagan, while supporting Sonia Sotomayor. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Nelson voted in favor of authorizing force in Iraq.

As governor, Nelson led the state during prosperous times when taxes were reduced. He supported the death penalty, and opposed abortion.

Nelson reached office by defeating then Republican Gov. Kay Orr in 1990, and easily won re-election with heavy Republican support in 1994. When he first ran for the Senate, he was defeated by political newcomer Chuck Hagel in 1996. But Nelson won in 2000, and was easily reelected in 2006.

Nebraska Democratic Party Chairman Vic Covalt said he expects qualified candidates to step up and make the race, but didn't name anyone in particular.

Nelson's decision not to run is seen as weakening Democrats chances to hold onto control of the Senate next year. But Washington Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said she remains confident her party will retain a majority.

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