Bob Kerrey said Thursday two super PACs are dominating Nebraska's Senate race with millions of dollars worth of TV attack ads and making it more difficult to be heard.
Those ads have "more influence than me or Deb Fischer," he said.
"They don't have to tell the truth. There's no realistic limit to what they'll spend. They are the dominant force in the election today."
During an interview in Lincoln following a speaking appearance at the Cotner Center Condominiums, Kerrey said he probably was trailing Fischer by double digits today.
"I still think I can win," he said, "but it's going to be hard."
Kerrey, a former two-term Democratic senator, is matched against Fischer, the Republican nominee, in a widely watched contest that could determine control of the Senate.
The two super PACs are American Crossroads, a creation of Republican operative Karl Rove, and Americans for Prosperity, funded by the industrialist Koch Brothers. Together, they already have spent $2 million on TV and radio ads defining Kerrey as a big-government New York City liberal with a leftist agenda.
"People walk up to me who think I've spent my whole life in New York," Kerrey said, when the truth is he was born in Lincoln, grew up in Lincoln, graduated from the University of Nebraska, operated businesses in Lincoln and Omaha, served one term as governor and 12 years as one of Nebraska's U.S. senators.
Kerrey said he went to Bethany Grade School in the very building that now houses the Cotner Center. He moved to New York in 2001 to accept the presidency of New School University, but he re-established residency in Omaha earlier this year.
Even his efforts to position himself to be a more effective senator for Nebraska in representing the state's interests have been mischaracterized and turned into "a negative" by the attacks ads, Kerrey said.
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Kerrey sought and gained assurance from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that his previous Senate seniority would be restored in determining his committee assignments. That presumably could position Kerrey to bid for seats on the Appropriations Committee and the Armed Services Committee now held by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, who will step down at the end of the year.
Answering criticism about his fiscal record, Kerrey said he inherited a projected budget deficit when he became governor and left office with the state enjoying a budget surplus. The same circumstances occurred during his Senate years, he said, but the federal government resumed substantial deficit spending under the Bush administration in which Rove was a leading White House strategist.
If he's elected to the Senate, Kerrey said, he would attack the huge budget deficits that have accumulated ever since by first decreasing spending.
"At the end of that, we may need some additional revenue," he said. "It would do too much damage to the fabric of society and to the economy to do all cuts. And if we do it too rapidly, it will make things worse."
That's the kind of truthful, bipartisan, problem-solving attitude he would like to bring to Washington, Kerrey said. Candidates should be willing to tell voters what they would do even though it creates political risk, he said.
"Politicians are afraid to tell people the truth," he said.
Kerrey told about 40 retirement-age residents at the Cotner Center that Social Security needs to be reformed to secure the program's future and re-establish intergenerational fairness.
That means raising the ceiling of income now subject to the payroll tax and raising the eligibility age for future recipients, he said. Those changes can be made without adversely affecting those already receiving benefits, he said.
"We have promises on the table we can't keep for those under 40" unless Social Security is reformed, Kerrey said.