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Nebraska's Republican attorney general eyes Senate run

Gears are turning already toward the 2012 election. Jon Bruning forms an exploratory committee to challenge Sen. Ben Nelson.

November 05, 2010|By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — It didn't take very long, did it?

A handful of election contests still have yet to be called after Tuesday's elections. But the starting gun has already been fired on the 2012 congressional campaign, with a Nebraska Republican announcing Friday that he is in the race to defeat Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.

State Atty. Gen. Jon Bruning formed an exploratory committee Friday to begin raising money to challenge the two-term incumbent, considered the most conservative Democrat remaining in the Senate.

It was only three days ago that Bruning won a third term as attorney general. His campaign website has already been rebranded to signal his new pursuit.

"Isn't it time we rein in Federal Spending and take America back?" Bruning asked in an overnight message posted on Twitter.

Last year, Bruning joined a suit filed by Republican counterparts from other states challenging the constitutionality of the new health care reform law.

Nelson voted against the legislation, which ultimately passed through the reconciliation process. But he did play a prominent, controversial role in the negotiations after securing the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback," additional funds to reimburse Nebraska for Medicaid costs. The provision ultimately was stripped from the final bill.

Nelson served two terms as Nebraska's governor before being elected to the Senate in 2000. He was re-elected in 2006.

To date he has not said he will run again but has dismissed speculation he might consider switching parties to run as a Republican.

Another possible Republican candidate, Gov. Dave Heineman, announced Thursday he would not run, surprising some. Heineman easily won a second full term Tuesday.

After losing a half-dozen seats on Tuesday, Democrats are eyeing the 2012 Senate landscape with some trepidation. Twenty-one Democrats are up for re-election, plus two independents who caucus with the party. Just 10 Republicans are up in two years. Among the states where Democrats must defend Senate seats are the deeply red Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia, as well as swing states such as Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia where the party struggled this week.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the outgoing chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, jokingly told Politico this week that only a "crazy person" would want to take his job in the next cycle.

mmemoli@tribune.com

twitter.com/mikememoli

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