Bob Kerrey’s Senate bid is an uphill climb

July 25, 2012

The Washington Post
By Karen Tumulty

ALLIANCE, Neb. — His hair has gone snowy, but rancher Darcy Leistritz instantly recognized the man coming her way at a strip mall here in Nebraska’s western reaches.

“I wore one of your T-shirts when I was in college,” she told Bob Kerrey.

That would have been some time late in the last century, when Kerrey was acclaimed as one of the most dazzling politicians this state had ever produced.

He was a heartland heartthrob: a Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor winner in Vietnam; a self-made millionaire; a brainy governor whose approval rating topped 70 percent; a Democrat who won a landslide election to the Senate in a year when Michael Dukakis failed to get even 40 percent of Nebraska’s vote for president. Oh, and he dated one of the biggest movie stars of the day, Debra Winger.

Now, after living in New York City for more than 10 years, Kerrey has returned and is trying to win back his old Senate seat. But it has been nearly two decades since his name last appeared on the general-election ballot in Nebraska, and his past glories here are as faded as those old campaign T-shirts. Even Leistritz said she does not know whether she will vote for him.

At the moment, Kerrey is running well behind a state senator, Deb Fischer, who stunned the Nebraska political establishment by defeating two better-funded and better-known candidates in the Republican primary in May.

The Kerrey subplot is playing out in a race that has attracted a lot of attention because Nebraska represents one of the best chances the GOP has of picking up a Democratic seat in its quest for a majority in the Senate. Kerrey was supposed to diminish those chances.

There hasn’t been a reliable poll lately, but Fischer’s team said last month that their internal numbers have her up by 25 points. Kerrey campaign officials estimate the margin is in the low double-digits. The candidate himself said his gut tells him “the election today is probably 54-46, something like that.”

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