Count Jon Bruning in.

Bruning, Nebraska's attorney general since 2003, announced Friday that he has formed an exploratory committee to consider a 2012 Senate bid.

But that's formality.

Here's fact: Bruning has started raising money for a Senate campaign, formed a four-person campaign staff and is ready to roll.

"I can't imagine any conditions under which I would not run," he acknowledged at a Friday morning news conference in the Capitol Rotunda.

"I want to run. I'm ready to run."

Bruning is the first Republican to step forward since Gov. Dave Heineman said Thursday he will not be a candidate for the Senate seat now held by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.

Others are expected to follow.

Among potential candidates on a long list of GOP prospects, State Treasurer-elect Don Stenberg appears the most certain to join the race.

Bruning, 41, a former state senator, was re-elected to a third term as attorney general on Tuesday without opposition.

Although he believes Nelson is "a fine human being," Bruning said, "I don't believe his votes have been reflective of our state."

In particular, Bruning took aim at Nelson's vote for health care reform legislation and his role in negotiating amendments to the bill that resulted in "the embarrassment of the Cornhusker Kickback."

That amendment provided federal funding for all of Nebraska's additional costs resulting from expansion of Medicaid.

Nelson said his purpose was to lay the groundwork for full funding of the new federal mandate for all states.

Bruning said he would provide a vote in the Senate for less government and less federal spending.

"On Tuesday, the American people took a giant step toward taking our country back," he said, "but much work remains in order to fix what's broken in Washington.

"Our deficit continues to grow to record levels and government spending remains unchecked," he said.

Bruning's announcement drew immediate fire from a trio of Democratic state senators from Omaha.

"It's disappointing that Jon won't stop running for office long enough to even let the votes be counted from Tuesday's election," said Sen. Health Mello.

Said Sen. Jeremy Nordquist: "It's frankly dishonest for Jon Bruning to run hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of TV ads about how much he loves being attorney general and suddenly pivot to the next campaign before the last election is even certified."

In a brief statement, Sen. Steve Lathrop echoed those comments.

Bruning mounted a Senate campaign in 2007 when he was prepared to challenge Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel's re-election.

Hagel ultimately did not seek re-election and Bruning subsequently bowed out of the 2008 Senate race to clear the field for Mike Johanns when he resigned as U.S. secretary of agriculture to seek the Senate seat.

Bruning said he deferred at the time to the wishes of President George W. Bush.

That's not going to happen again, he said.

"I'm not asking permission. I'm not asking for a blessing."

Bruning said the health care reform law represents "a gross overreach of federal power that comes with a price tag that is simply unsustainable."

And, he said, he believes the law is unconstitutional.

The attorney general said he would welcome "a spirited primary" contest for the Republican nomination.

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at