Nelson and Kerrey

As Steve noted yesterday, a not-so-titantic figure in the U.S. Senate, Nebraska’s sorta-kinda Democrat Ben Nelson, announced he would not run for re-election next year after all. Republicans greeted the news with considerable satisfaction; Democrats varied between those unhappy with the development and its possible impact on control of the Senate after 2012 and those wishing him good riddance, though all agreed it would have been nice if Nelson had made his plans known a few months and a few million dollars in fundraising earlier.

My own feelings are mixed. While I’m more tolerant than most Democrats about ideological heresy in the ranks, I do think any Senate member of either party should be held to three simple rules: You must not endorse candidates (particularly for president) of the other party; you must not habitually attack your own party and its leaders to establish your alleged “independence;” and you must support your party on key procedural votes, including cloture motions. While Nelson did not follow Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman in violating the first rule, he did regularly violate the other two, so I will hardly shed tears over his departure, much as I’d love to keep that seat (an unlikely prospect in any event, given Nelson’s poll numbers).

Nelson’s retirement has already led to speculation that none other than Bob Kerrey, Nelson’s predecessor as both governor and senator, could pursue a comeback.

I dunno. As Digby notes today, Kerrey rankled a lot of progressives back in the 1990s with his aggressive championship of “entitlement reform,” which is a hotter and more polarizing topic now than then. His post-Senate stewardship of the New School in New York was a real hot mess, though that may bother Nebraskans less than the fact that he abandoned them for the Big Apple in the first place. Just as problematic is Kerrey’s reputation as something of a political Hamlet. He extensively explored a presidential bid in 2000 before announcing he wanted to stay in the Senate, and not long afterwards announced he didn’t want to be in the Senate any more. And the time he did run for the White House, in 1992, his campaign was something of a disaster.

Methinks Nebraska Democrats should try to find some fresh faces.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.