Column time: Let's wing it.
Don't look now, but the Iowa Republican caucuses are just around the corner. Thirty-seven days away.
On Jan. 3, Iowa caucus-goers will propel us into what is certain to be an ugly election year. Congress isn't working, the economy appears stuck, the so-called job creators aren't creating jobs, and both sides blame the other for most of that.
And voters are crabby.
As Iowa approaches, it appears the core of the Republican Party isn't happy with the nominee they appear likely to get.
Mitt Romney is out front and seems almost inevitable, but the conservative GOP base keeps grasping for an alternative. First Bachmann, then Perry for an instant, then Cain, now Gingrich; who next?
At some point, do they go ask Jeb Bush? Or make another trip to Chris Christie's doorstep?
Iowa will begin the great race.
Nebraska Republicans probably won't get to move off the sidelines since they can't weigh in until May, when presumably this battle is done. And yet, with the Republican mood clearly restless and unsettled, you never know whether this one is going to get settled within conventional timelines.
The Democratic battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008 rolled on forever.
In Nebraska, of course, 2012 will be all about the Senate race.
And the overriding question now is: What will Ben do?
Ben Nelson is prepared to seek re-election. The groundwork has been laid. Money has been raised. More than $3 million has been banked. TV ads promoting the Democratic senator have blanketed the state. Paul Johnson has planted and tilled the soil.
But Nelson has not yet pushed the button or turned the switch that says GO!
Nelson has served eight years as governor and enters his 12th year in the Senate in January. He is 70. He would be 77 at the end of another six-year term.
The biggest personal question for him is not what if he loses, but what if he wins. Does he want to be in the Senate for another six years?
Sure, what if he loses is going to be part of the equation. But this will be more of a decision about what he wants to do.
And that's why it will be made with the counsel of family members and his most trusted advisers. They'll talk during the Christmas holidays, Nelson has said. And sometime after that, he'll let us know.
If it's yes, we've got a premier Senate race on our hands, one that will bring big bucks into the state on both sides, blanket your TV screen with 30-second ads from political partisans and anonymous special interests, and command some national attention.
If it's no, the Republican who emerges from the May primary election with the Senate nomination in hand can start looking for a home in Washington.
It would take a huge implosion by the GOP nominee to give any Democratic nominee other than Nelson a reasonable chance of winning that race. It's hard even to figure out who that Democratic nominee would be.
But this is Ben Nelson's call.
And it is more personal than political.
The last three elected senators — Bob Kerrey, Chuck Hagel and Jim Exon — all walked away.
* * *
The slugfest with Iowa was fun. The shootout with Oregon was fun.
And, once again, last week's Husker football and basketball battles provided another reminder about what is so special about sports events.
Unlike movies and theatre productions and books, there is no script. No one knows how it will end because the ending has not been ordained. It just unfolds in front of us.
No wonder it's such fun.
* * *
* The Veterans History Project will feature Chuck Hagel and his brother Tom, along with video from Nebraska Educational Telecommunications, at a reception in the Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress on Dec. 7.
* Will Wisconsin rent another quarterback next year?
* Winter's here: Get out the books. Anyone want to join me in establishing a 250-page book club? Our motto: If you can't say it in 250 pages, write another book.
* Winter's here: Let's all go to Florida in January. Where to, Huskers?