Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska will announce today that he is retiring after two terms, a serious blow to Democratic efforts to hold on to their majority in the chamber next November.
Nelson is scheduled to hold a press conference back home in Nebraska as early as today to make his decision official, said several Democratic insiders close to the leadership.
The 70-year-old Nelson was considered one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents this cycle. GOP-affiliated outside groups have already dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV ads bashing Nelson, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent over $1 million on its own ad blitz to bolster his image.
The White House and top Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Chuck Schumer of New York, had quietly mounted a pressure campaign to keep Nelson from retiring. Nelson has more than $3 million in his campaign war chest, and his approval rating solidified after falling over the last several years. Nelson can give unlimited amounts to the DSCC from his reelection fund, Democratic sources noted.
Nelson, a Nebraska native and former insurance industry executive, had forged a reputation inside the Senate as one of the most moderate Democrats, sometimes to the frustration of his more liberal colleagues. He supported the Bush tax cuts in 2001, yet also backed President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package in 2009, as well as the Democrats’ signature health-care bill.
But with Nelson stepping down, the Democrats’ hold on the Senate is in serious doubt, although Democratic leaders believe they can still do so. Republicans are expected to pick up control of the Cornhusker State seat, although popular former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) has been seen as a possible candidate to run again by top Democrats.
Other vulnerable Democrats like Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) also face difficult — although winnable — reelection fights.
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