Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) is surely already aware of the hostile Nebraska electorate he is slated to face in 2012 should he opt to run for a third term. Over the holiday season, Republicans will also seek to demonstrate the financial obstacles he will face in a reelection campaign.
Crossroads GPS, a group unaffiliated with the RNC, founded by top GOP strategist Karl Rove and former RNC chairman Mike Duncan, has reserved $519,000 in airtime on Nebraska’s largest media markets blasting Nelson’s vote for the pro-abortion Obama healthcare law.
Nelson has not yet confirmed whether he will seek a third term but with enormous pressure by groups like Crossroads, it is very possible he may just opt for retirement. Without Nelson, Democrats have a very weak bench in Nebraska and likely they will write off the race entirely. Republicans need just a few seats in order to retake control of the US Senate. Nebraska will be an absolutely necessary pick-up to achieve that goal. It’s hard to see Republicans losing Nebraska and somehow pulling off enough victories elsewhere to get the numbers.
While Democrats tout recent polling showing Nelson defeating each of his would-be Republican competitors, he remains incredibly vulnerable. Larry Sabato of the UVA Center for Politics has ranked the race a toss-up. Democrats are nervous about Nelson’s standing in Nebraska and the implications for their control of the Senate after 2012.
The Nebraska Democratic Party, funded by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has aired $1.25 million in advertising on behalf of Nelson. Last week the Democratic Senate Majority PAC spent another $100,000 on their own ads. Democrats are essentially conceding without Nelson in the race, they will have to give up hope in the Cornhusker State.
President Obama’s pro-abortion healthcare law is unpopular in the state and it was Senator Nelson who gave the deciding vote to secure its passage. According to the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling, only 29% of Nebraskans support the Obama healthcare law. Independents oppose the law by a margin of 54-33 and even 25% of Nebraska Democrats are opposed.
Nelson infamously held out on giving Obama his vote while seeking financial compensation for the state of Nebraska. Notoriously known now as the “Cornhusker Kickback,” Nelson was prepared to vote for Obamacare in exchange for a permanent exemption of Nebraska from federal Medicaid payments. The deal inspired so much outrage that ultimately the idea was tossed out. However, even without the deal Nelson voted for the bill.
Sadly, Nelson had been the foremost pro-life Democrat in the Senate. Nelson actually offered an amendment, co-sponsored by pro-life Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), to the healthcare reform bill to prevent taxpayer funding for abortion. The National Right to Life Committee sent a letter to members of the Senate urging support for this amendment. Nelson, however, betrayed his pro-life convictions by voting for a version of the bill, which gutted this vital pro-life measure.
Nelson once enjoyed the endorsement of Nebraska Right to Life PAC, the state’s largest pro-life organization. Since his betrayal of the pro-life community during the healthcare debate, the organization has stated his vote precludes him from ever receiving its endorsement in the future. The version of the bill approved by Senator Nelson, upon arrival to the US House, was labeled “the most abortion-expansive piece of legislation ever to reach the floor of the US House of Representatives” by the National Right to Life Committee.
Previously, Nelson voted in favor of the landmark partial-birth abortion ban and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. In addition, he voted to prohibit taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research and funding for organizations overseas that provide or promote abortion. Nelson also broke from his party to oppose the nomination of pro-abortion Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court.
Since the healthcare debate and during this current legislative session, Nelson has not cast one pro-life vote (as scored by the National Right to Life Committee). He voted in favor of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. He has also opposed all efforts to repeal or block funding to Obamacare.
Several pro-life Republicans have entered the race eager to face off against Nelson in 2012.
Attorney General Jon Bruning, a key pro-life ally in the fight to pass Nebraska’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, entered the race in January 2011 and was long-thought to be the standout favorite to take on Nelson. However, Treasurer Don Stenberg has given Bruning a run for his money. Stenberg got a significant boost from endorsements by Senators DeMint and Lee, influential conservative leader Ken Blackwell, RedState Editor Erick Erickson, conservative radio host Mark Levin and the tea party group FreedomWorks. Bruning is not without his own list of credible conservative endorsements. Bruning enjoys the support of pro-life champion Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Tea Party Express.
In addition to Bruning and Stenberg, state Senator Deb Fischer and 2008 Senate candidate Pat Flynn have also entered the race. National Republicans had courted pro-life Governor Dave Heineman to enter the race, however, he turned down the offer last month. No matter which of the announced Republican candidates ultimately wins the nomination there will be a clear pro-life choice for the seat.
Should Senator Nelson run for reelection, he will certainly not enjoy the support of the pro-life community as in past elections. In a state like Nebraska, where the electorate is favors the pro-life position, Nelson heads into 2012 with a huge disadvantage.