This isn’t how the playbook predicted the Senate race in Nebraska. After incumbent Democrat Ben Nelson decided to retire rather than face the wrath of Nebraska voters over his support for ObamaCare, Democrats looked to former Senator Bob Kerrey, a genuine war hero and at one time a popular figure in the state, to rescue the seat from certain Republican victory. After first demurring, Democrats successfully convinced Kerrey to return from New York City and challenge the predicted Republican candidate, Jon Bruning, supposedly improving their chances of defending the open seat.
PPP’s newest Nebraska Senate poll finds that Democrats are in a much worse position with Bob Kerrey as their candidate than they would have been with Ben Nelson, and that Jon Bruning is now a strong favorite in both the primary and general elections.
Kerrey’s campaign rollout has not been a success. In October his favorability rating in the state was a +5 spread at 39/34. Since then it’s dropped 20 points on the margin to -15 at 36/51. Kerrey’s stayed steady with Democrats but has seen large drops with independents (from 47/24 to 36/38) and with Republicans (from 23/47 to 16/74).
Kerrey trails the top 3 Republican contenders by double digits. He’s down 17 to Jon Bruning at 54-37, 14 to Don Stenberg at 52-38, and 10 to Deb Fischer at 48-38. In PPP’s last poll before he announced his retirement Ben Nelson trailed Bruning by only 4, Stenberg by 3, and actually led Fischer by 2. This does not appear to be one of those instances where a retirement left the party better off.
Why did Democrats seek out Kerrey? They thought he could win independents and get some Republican crossover. As PPP found, they apparently don’t know Nebraska voters very well:
There are two things a Democrat has to be able to do to win in Nebraska: peel off a lot of Republican votes and win independents by a wide margin. Zeroing in on the match up with Bruning, Kerrey is doing neither of those things. He’s actually losing 18% of the Democratic vote to Bruning, more than the 12% of the Republican vote that he’s winning over. And he trails 44-42 with independents as well.
Just how bad is it? Kerrey is the only one in the race with a majority rating on favorability of any kind — and it’s 51% unfavorable, with only 14% unsure. Bruning has a 39/35 rating with 26% unsure. That could be because Bruning hit Kerrey with a pretty tough ad as soon as Kerrey jumped into the race, or it might be from Kerrey’s own words on ObamaCare. Kerrey told a Greenwich Village audience in 2009 that he keeps going farther left on health care the longer he studies it, hardly a recipe for attracting voters in a state angry over Nelson’s betrayal on ObamaCare. The fact that Kerrey spent the last decade living in New York City might have something to do with their estimation of him as a candidate, too.
Democrats were probably not going to hold this seat after Nelson’s betrayal anyway. However, it looks like they managed to do the improbable and actually make things worse.