OMAHA -- With Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning announcing his intention to run for U.S Senate in 2012 a mere three days after the midterm election, it remains to be seen whether he'll be followed by a passel of Nebraska Republicans eager to chase the seat now held by Democrat Ben Nelson.

If Bruning was hoping to scare other GOP contenders away by jumping in early, he'll likely be disappointed, said one Nebraskan with ties to the state Republican Party.

"I don't think he scares anybody out of the race who's thinking seriously about getting in," said former Nebraska state Republican Party chairman David Kramer.

Gov. Dave Heineman probably would have been the only candidate with the political clout necessary to keep other Republicans from jumping into the race, Kramer said. Heineman had been considered the likely choice to challenge Nelson in 2012. But he surprised analysts and fellow Republicans by announcing just two days after his landslide re-election that he would serve out his four-year term.

Not everyone was surprised, Kramer said.

"For as long as I've known Dave Heineman, his interest has not been in Washington," he said.

In fact, Kramer said when he called then-Lt. Gov. Dave Heineman in 2003 to ask if Heineman would run for the 1st House District seat being vacated by long-serving Rep. Doug Bereuter, Heineman declined.

"He told me then that he just had no interest in going to Washington," Kramer recounted.

At least one other Nebraska Republican, newly elected State Treasurer and former attorney general Don Stenberg, has hinted he might consider running.

It would not be Stenberg's first run for the Senate. He made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination in 1996, losing to Chuck Hagel, who would go on win the election. Stenberg tried again in 2000, winning the Republican primary but losing to Nelson in the general election in a close race.

While Kramer believes Stenberg would lose a primary race to Bruning in a head-to-head matchup, Kramer noted, "In a three-way primary, he can win."

Other names tossed about as possible contenders have been Nebraska's Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood and state auditor Mike Foley.

Foley said he hasn't "made any decision on any future races," while Flood said flatly that he will not run for the GOP nomination in 2012.

"I'm going to enjoy every minute of the Legislature," Flood said. "I love this job."

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Nebraska's three Republican congressmen -- Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, Adrian Smith and Lee Terry -- also are mentioned often, although none have shown any interest in running.

Both Terry and Smith said they have no plans to seek the Senate seat at this time. Fortenberry issued a statement rebuffing the question of a Senate run altogether.

"I was just elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. That's my job," Fortenberry said. "I am very pleased to serve the people of Nebraska in the people's House."

But the Republican field probably will be shaped by whether Nelson -- the lone Democrat in Nebraska's congressional delegation -- will seek a third term to the Senate, Kramer said.

If he decides not to run, the state's three congressmen might reconsider, he said.

"The next major decision is Ben's," Kramer said. "If Ben is the nominee in 2012, whoever his opposing candidate is will be scrutinized like they've never been scrutinized before. Ben's task will be to tear down whoever his opponent is -- and he'll do it. There will not be a nook or a cranny not explored."

Any Republicans jumping into the race should count on facing Nelson, who has said that while he's focusing on the work ahead in the Senate over the next two years, he's planning to seek re-election.

Nelson spokesman Jake Thompson said re-election has not been discussed in meetings with Nelson, but noted that the senator is fundraising.


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