Ben Nelson, Nebraska’s Democratic senator, will retire from the Senate next year, despite benefiting from a million dollars in early-cycle advertising funded by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
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 their own ad blitz to bolster his image.
I understand that the ad money was meant to entice Nelson into running for re-election by showing him the support he would receive from national Democrats. I don’t understand why you would spend that money. Nelson has spent the last couple years voting in lockstep with the Republican minority on dozens of key issues, particularly around spending and debt. His vote to keep Harry Reid in the majority obviously meant more to the leadership than any of his votes on substantive issues.
What’s more, Nelson was going to lose next year. Polling showed him consistently under 40% in Nebraska, and unlike in some other states, increased turnout from the Presidential race would not help him. Senate observers were writing this one off all ready, and any money the DSCC sunk into this race would have been as wasted as money put toward re-electing Blanche Lincoln or Rick Santorum or any other doomed incumbent.
So I guess the DSCC got its wasting of funds for Nelson out of the way early. What’s more, they used an “issues-based” SuperPAC to finance the ad and get around donation limits, degrading the campaign finance system even further and opening the way for direct coordination between candidates and unlimited SuperPACs on ads. So worth it!
Even with Nelson in the race Republicans were going to take this seat. But now that looks more like a lock, though former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey may be interested in taking a run at the race. Contrary to some reports, this doesn’t really make the Senate more likely to flip, as Nelson’s loss was already baked into the cake of most analyses. In fact, the DSCC won’t sink much more money into that bottomless pit in Nebraska, so losses will be cut.
But I’m sure they’ll wish they had that million dollars back next year.