A prominent former senator reversed course Wednesday and said he will seek the Democratic nomination for his old seat in the central state of Nebraska, giving hope to Democrats desperate to stop Republicans from regaining control of the Senate in the November elections.
Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, who ran for president in 1992, announced his intention to seek the nomination just weeks after he publicly rejected a run to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.
It was the second boost in two days for the Democratic party's efforts to retain its slim Senate majority: moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of the northeastern state of Maine announced Tuesday she would not run for a fourth term, handing Democrats an unexpected shot at gaining an open seat.
Democrats, who are facing tough odds this election cycle, hold a 51-47 majority in the upper chamber of Congress, with two independents who caucus with the Democrats. President Barack Obama is also up for re-election.
Kerrey, 68, a former Nebraska governor, announced his reversal just one day before Nebraska's candidate filing deadline. Earlier this month, he had said not getting into the race was in his and his family's best interest.
David Kramer, a former Nebraska Republican party chairman 2006 Senate candidate, said Kerrey's re-emergence takes what could have been a relatively low profile Nebraska race "into probably a full-fledged battle for what could be a toss-up."
"The expectation on a national level will be that he provides the Democrats with a better opportunity to hold that seat, and when every seat is going to matter, having that kind of cache matters," Kramer said.
Kerrey's turnaround is the latest lurch in what has been a roller coaster ride for Nebraska Democrats since Nelson surprised the party in December by announcing he would not seek a third term this year.
Kerrey said soon after that he would consider running for the seat he had held from 1989-2000, and made a six-day visit to Nebraska to consult friends and family about a run. It was weeks before Kerrey initially demurred, and another three before he announced that he had changed his mind again.
"It just felt wrong. I wasn't happy with the decision," Kerrey, said of his earlier announcement during a telephone call to declare his candidacy.
In Maine, Snowe's unexpected decision not to seek a fourth term caused a scramble among potential Democratic and Republican candidates just two weeks before a deadline to qualify for the June primary ballot.
Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud were planning a run. Two former governors — Democrat John Baldacci and independent Angus King — were also weighing a run. On the Republican side, several candidates are considering getting into the race.
Snowe, who had earned a reputation as an independent voice in the Senate, cited frustration over Washington's current "atmosphere of polarization" in her decision not to run for a seat she had been expected to retain easily.
Associated Press writers Margery A. Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, and David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this story.
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