Developing

Did Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson Just Play Scrooge to the Democrats' Christmas?

ANALYSIS | The word "Nebraska" loosely translates as "broad river" according to Netstate.com. And that's just what the Democrats are going to have to cross if they want to hold onto the Senate, now that Nebraska Senate Democrat Ben Nelson called it quits for after a career in statewide and national politics spanning more than two decades. Will such a retirement spell doom for Senate Democrats and their bid to hold onto the upper house of Congress?

Republicans probably perceived Nelson as "Dead Man Walking" after his health care vote, but Nelson made a career of defying expectations. He ousted a Republican Governor in a stand-pat election year in 1990. He was overwhelmingly reelected in a bad Democratic year (1994). He won an open seat in 2000, the same year Bush won and took Nebraska handily. And he coasted to a senatorial re-election in 2006. His only stumble came in 1996 when he lost an open seat Senate race (to independent-minded Republican Chuck Hagel), but only after breaking a campaign promise not to run for another office while governor, according to the Associated Press.

What's more is that this upsets Democratic Party plans. They had already purchased a number of ad buys, according to Schulte and Margasak. Nelson had a decent war chest, according to The Blaze. Plus, there was the prospect of a messy Republican primary between the state's Attorney General, State Treasurer, a legislator and business executive, which would have made things easier for Nelson.

There are no easy Democratic candidates to trot out as replacements. The entire congressional delegation is Republican, as are all statewide offices. Politics1.com lists Larry Marvin as a potential candidate (an Air Force veteran and prior candidate for office). There's also Scott Kleeb (former Congressional candidate) and Bill Hoppner (who ran twice for Governor, losing once to Nelson after a lengthy recount by 40 votes, and got 46 percent of the vote in a 1998 contest to succeed Nelson according to OurCampaigns.com), but only the younger Kleeb is likely to consider the election.

A more likely option could come from the state's second district, where Obama narrowly won in 2008. According to Politics1.com, three Democrats were attempting to unseat Republican Congressman Lee Terry: Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing, State Senator Gwen Howard, and Howard Buffett (listed as a former US Defense Dept. Official, Farmer, Philanthropist and Democratic Activist by Politics1.com). One of them could step out the race (where Terry faces his own primary) and switch to the Senate race.

Some on Yahoo Answers want Bob Kerrey to come back into politics. That may be wishful thinking on the respondents' part, but one cannot completely rule it out.

Whoever the Democrats run, it will be an uphill battle. For all their bad-mouthing of Ben Nelson, he was rated as a "toss-up" by the Charlie Cook Political Report, for race ratings in December 1 and 22 in the big red state of Nebraska. Already, there are 10 toss-up races; eight of them involved seats Democrats needed to defend. Only a Kerrey comeback might make this a toss-up.

Nelson's departure is likely to move the race into the Republican column, unless three things happen. First, the expected divisive GOP primary needs blood on the walls. Even this is not a guarantee, as Hagel was able to overcome a bitter intra-party feud against Don Stenberg (then-Attorney General, now State Treasurer, who wants Nelson's job). Second, Democrats need little or no in-fighting in their own primary. Third, Obama's fortunes need to rebound in a big way. He needs better economic numbers, or at least some sort of positive trend. And, as Cook wrote in the National Journal "If Republicans nominate someone whom swing voters find unpalatable, or if the GOP nominee self-destructs, Obama will benefit." And I have yet to meet a Republican in my conservative bastion of West Georgia (which resembles Nebraska for political ideology) who is enthusiastic about any of the choices, save Ron Paul supporters.

Democrats (and Democrat-leaning allies) must defend 23 of the 33 seats up for grabs in 2012, so the math was already against them. Without a big name entering the race, the Senate is even more likely to shift Republican next year.