Democrats can’t count on Kerrey

The former Nebraska senator probably prefers Greenwich Village to Omaha

Topics: U.S. Senate, Bob Kerrey, ,

Democrats can't count on KerreyDo I have to move to Omaha? (Credit: AP)

Given the tenuousness of Democratic control of the U.S. Senate, I imagine more than a few people in Washington are hoping former Sen. Bob Kerrey will run for the seat vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson. As both local and national sources are reporting, Kerrey is seriously exploring the bid – and Republicans are taking his possible entrance just as seriously. Operatives of both parties seem to agree that he may be the only Democrat who could hold the seat. I hope that he makes the race. But I don’t think he will.

First, some politicos call Kerrey a serial floater. They refer to his frequent Hamlet routine, in which he contemplates but ultimately declines to run for various offices: in 2000 for president, in 2005 for New York City mayor, and in 2008 for the last open U.S. Senate seat in Nebraska.

Second, after a decade in the private sector, I doubt Kerrey is excited by the prospect of a year of retail campaigning. He was famously aloof in his 1992 presidential campaign, which reinforced the regrettable nickname “Cosmic Bob.” As a former aide to ex-presidential candidate Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., I traveled with Kerrey briefly in western Iowa in late 1999 as he helped campaign for Bradley before the caucuses. During a break between events, an advance man suggested that Kerrey shake hands in a small-town square; Kerrey suggested bowling instead. While I appreciated his quirky charisma, obvious intelligence, and willingness to speak hard truths, I found him miscast for the practice of politics. Accounts of his time in the Senate suggest a similar distaste for schmoozing.

You Might Also Like

Third, he could lose. Nebraska has reddened quite a bit since his last race in 1994. Back then, Nebraska had a Democratic governor and two Democratic U.S. senators; now, Nelson is the last elected Democratic statewide officeholder (and likely would’ve lost in ’12, which was why he bowed out). And surely, his having spent his last decade heading one of the nation’s most liberal universities — located in the lefty bastion of Greenwich Village — would take a little explaining to culturally conservative Nebraska voters. Attempting a comeback in such a risky race, after an unblemished career record of wins, may seem unappealing.

Fourth, Kerrey might be haunted by the results of his last election. That election was a non-binding no-confidence vote brought by the faculty of the New School, where he served as president from 2001 to 2010. The overall vote was reportedly 271 to 3 against Kerrey, with the vote among senior faculty 74-2 against, and Kerrey announced his resignation soon thereafter. This occurred after Kerrey went through five provosts in seven years before naming himself provost in addition to president, which helped trigger student occupations of the administration building (back before the word “occupy” was capitalized). To say that Kerrey’s New School tenure was rocky would be like saying that Nixon had a bumpy presidency.

Even Kerrey’s New School detractors concede that he spearheaded some impressive achievements during his tenure on a number of fronts, substantially growing the endowment and streamlining operations. But he apparently had no constituency beyond the trustees and a few senior administrators; notably, the university quickly hired a new president with unsurpassed interpersonal skills whose early efforts at university-wide outreach have been widely hailed. New School veterans say that Kerrey could’ve benefited from even a small effort at retail politics within the university. That he did not attempt one further suggests a pattern of unease with the quotidian mechanics of politicking that could hinder Kerrey’s interest in returning to elective politics – especially in such a challenging climate for Democrats as Nebraska.

The last reason for my skepticism that Kerrey will run is simple: Would you want to spend a year in Nebraska — not to mention weekends for the next six years — after a decade in the Village? If he does, though, voters should choose him, if only for his deep commitment to his home state.

Jeff Smith is Assistant Professor of Politics and Advocacy at the New School in New York City, and a former Missouri state senator.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>