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Bob Kerrey said Wednesday that a deluge of TV and radio ads branding him as a New York liberal runs counter to the reality that at New School University he was "attacked virtually every day for being a right-winger (who) supported George Bush's war in Iraq."

Kerrey was president of New School University from 2001 through 2010 and is considering whether to seek the Democratic nomination in Nebraska's 2012 Senate race.

It is true that he supports "government-run health care programs," as the political attack ads have said, Kerrey said, if that means Veterans Administration health care, Medicare and Medicaid.

Government also "provides health insurance for the attorney general," he noted. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning is regarded as the frontrunner in the Republican Senate primary contest.

"There are times when government is the only way to get it done," Kerrey said.

"And there also are times when the private market can get it done. Unfortunately, the market now is putting more people in the ranks of the uninsured (because) lower-wage-job employers can't afford health insurance."

Health care reform is "an extremely important debate to have," Kerrey said.

"We're supposed to have great debates, and I'm not intimidated by debate on the critical issues. That's important for us to do."

Kerrey responded to the barrage of attack ads during a telephone interview from New York two days after his return from a swing through Omaha, Lincoln, Norfolk and Grand Island in advance of a decision on whether to be a Senate candidate.

Kerrey, who represented Nebraska in the Senate from 1989 to 2001 after a single term as governor, said he is continuing to confer with his family.

"I don't have a timeline" for making a decision, he said.

"My wife and I talked about it Monday night and Tuesday night, and Sarah and I will talk about it again Wednesday night," Kerrey said. "There are good arguments on both sides of that decision."

He decided to consider a Senate bid this year after Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson announced he would not be a candidate for a third term.

In advance of his decision, political opponents continued to hammer Kerrey.

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The latest attacks came Wednesday in the form of a new web video posted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The NRSC video portrays Kerrey as "Big Apple Bob," who would be Nelson's "liberal replacement" in the Senate. 

"Perfect for New York," the video states.  "Dead wrong for Nebraska."

"Kerrey actually supports a more radical version of government-run health care, taxpayer-funded abortions, cap and trade, and strongly opposes a balanced budget amendment," the NRSC said.

Meanwhile, Custer County rancher Jim Jenkins said he plans to form a new political party to provide an avenue for him to gain access to the ballot as a Senate candidate because he cannot file as an independent petition candidate because of a 2011 change in state election laws.

Jenkins, who has not yet decided whether he will be a candidate, said he and his supporters would need to get about 5,000 signatures by Aug. 1 to form a new party.

His plan to consider an independent petition candidacy was thwarted by the new law, which would disqualify him because he was a registered Democrat during this calendar year. Jenkins changed his voter registration from Democratic to non-partisan earlier this month.

He said he would be reluctant to pursue a Senate candidacy unless he could raise at least $1 million to conduct a competitive race.

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

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