Hassebrook withdraws from Senate race, endorses Kerrey

2012-03-08T16:30:00Z 2013-05-31T16:32:06Z Hassebrook withdraws from Senate race, endorses KerreyBy DON WALTON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
March 08, 2012 4:30 pm  • 

OMAHA -- Chuck Hassebrook stepped aside Thursday, endorsing Bob Kerrey's Senate candidacy and clearing his path to the Democratic nomination.

After a realistic look at his prospects, Hassebrook said he "came to the realization I would not succeed" in building a credible campaign that could successfully challenge Kerrey, a former two-term senator, in the Democratic primary contest.

Hassebrook, who, as a candidate, was ready to advocate for the interests of "the little guy," said he is confident Kerrey is prepared to "make the tough choices for hard-working families, the poor and those who are struggling to hold their grip on the middle class or trying to claw their way into the middle class." 

Hassebrook announced his decision at a joint appearance with Kerrey at the Omaha Press Club that was more formal and respectful than warm and fuzzy.

"I know it was not easy," Kerrey said. "I am very grateful."

Hassebrook withdrew as a candidate for re-election to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents to file as a Senate candidate only after Kerrey announced a month ago he would not enter the Senate race. 

Subsequently, Kerrey changed his mind and Hassebrook was locked out of the regents race and he declared that Kerrey had "broken his word."

On Thursday, Hassebrook said he has "moved beyond that" and hopes to help Kerrey win the Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson at the end of the year.

Although Hassebrook has abandoned his Senate campaign, it's too late to remove his name from the Democratic ballot.

In answer to questioning, he acknowledged he may consider a bid for governor in 2014.

"I very probably will look for a way to get back into elective office," Hassebrook said. For now, he will return to the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons after recently taking a leave of absence as executive director to conduct his Senate campaign.

During an interview following the joint appearance, Kerrey said he's surprised Republican critics would attempt to argue it is wrong for him to seek assignment to Senate committees where he could best represent the interests of Nebraskans.

In conversations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid leading up to his decision to seek the Senate seat, Kerrey said, he sought assurances that Reid would help him try to win appointment to the Appropriations Committee, the Armed Services Committee and the Agriculture Committee. 

"If the purpose of running is to try to help your state, that's what I'm doing," Kerrey said. "The purpose is to position myself to be able to do as much as I can for Nebraska (and) be a much more effective senator for Nebraska."

Nelson now holds seats on those committees, each of which is tied directly to Nebraska interests. 

In addition to the obvious ties of agriculture and appropriations, the Armed Services Committee positions a Nebraska senator to represent the interests of Offutt Air Force Base and help protect and secure its status as headquarters for the U.S. Strategic Command, Kerrey said.

"I think I have a better than even chance of getting those committees because I asked," he said.

Seats on those committees are better secured by "a commitment (from Reid) to respect my 12 years of previous service in the Senate" in determining assignments, he said.

"It's all about helping me do good for Nebraska," Kerrey said.

Kerrey still is matched against three little-known names in the Democratic primary and will face the winner of a six-candidate Republican Senate primary field, which includes Attorney General Jon Bruning, state Treasurer Don Stenberg and state Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine.

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.

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