It has been 13 years since Ben Nelson was reelected to the Senate, romping to a second-term victory over a Republican newcomer named Pete Ricketts in 2006.
The previous Democratic senator – and former two-term governor – received that contest by 164,000 votes, and it marked the sixth Democratic victory prior to now eight Senate elections in Nebraska on the time.
Instances have modified.
Nelson’s 2006 win was the final massive statewide victory for a Democratic nominee in Nebraska – and it hasn’t even been shut since. Republicans have racked up victory margins starting from 97,000 to 233,000 votes in contests for governor or U.S. Senate since Nelson left the statewide poll.
And Ricketts is now finishing the primary yr of his second four-year gubernatorial time period after handily successful reelection in 2018.
Nelson is again residence in Omaha, busy, engaged and visibly contented.
He not too long ago was named the CEO of Florida-based Insurance coverage Care Direct, one of many nation’s largest well being and life insurance coverage companies, and he is an legal professional within the Lamson Dugan & Murray legislation agency headquartered on Regency Parkway Drive not removed from his residence.
And he is writing a e-book in regards to the Senate and his time there.
His writer desires it in the marketplace in 2020 within the midst of an electrical presidential election yr.
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In 2009, on the day earlier than Christmas, Nelson was thrust into the nationwide highlight when he forged the deciding 60th vote to free President Barack Obama’s signature home achievement, the Inexpensive Care Act, from a Senate filibuster after negotiating an modification that might be favorable to Nebraska.
Nelson in the end requested that the particular provision be eliminated and voted towards enactment of a revised invoice.
However he has extra to jot down about than simply that point of high-stakes drama, which thrust him into the nationwide highlight as a Senate negotiator and gave beginning to the memorable description of his modification because the Cornhusker Kickback.
That was the storyline promoted by Republican opponents of the well being care reform laws, and it caught.
Nelson has a wider storyline in thoughts for his e-book.
“This can be a story about when the Senate labored, when bipartisan was actual, not simply ballyhooed,” he mentioned as he settled right into a chair in his comfy Omaha residence with Angel and Tazzie, the 2 household canine, eagerly becoming a member of the dialog.
The potential, even perhaps possible, title of the e-book is “When the Lions Roared.”
And here is a chapter title that he couldn’t resist within the age of Trump: “The Coronary heart of the Deal.”
President Donald Trump, after all, famously co-authored a e-book titled “The Artwork of the Deal” a few a long time in the past.
Throughout a 2017 interview with The New York Instances, Trump took observe of Nelson’s Obamacare negotiation expertise: “They owned the state of Nebraska,” the president mentioned. “Their greatest senator did one of many best offers within the historical past of politics. What occurred to him?”
Well-known for a deft flip of phrase, Nelson has one other in thoughts.
When negotiating throughout the aisle within the Senate, no less than on the time he was there, Nelson mentioned, “You did not have to confirm, simply belief.”
And that might be shades of Ronald Reagan, 1984 and later throughout nuclear disarmament negotiations with the Soviet Union: “Belief, however confirm,” spoken by Reagan in damaged Russian phrases that made Russian chief Mikhail Gorbachev chortle.
A handshake is not sufficient within the Senate at present, Nelson mentioned.
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“I noticed the modifications and that was the primary purpose I did not search a 3rd time period,” he mentioned.
As a part of reaching a call about whether or not to be a candidate for reelection in 2012, Nelson commissioned a ballot by Harrison Hickman, then sat down with the pollster for a summation of what he had discovered.
“Your model has fallen,” Nelson mentioned Hickman informed him. “However you are gonna win. Your opposition goes to be louder and possibly a bit extra decided.”
Nelson mentioned he took the query of whether or not to hunt a 3rd time period to a household gathering, acknowledging in the course of the dialogue that “I feel I will be pissed off” in what was destined to be a way more partisan Senate, far much less open to bipartisan cooperation.
“My political math all the time has been addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division,” he mentioned.
“And I did not see a spot for bipartisan offers.”
Nelson mentioned son Pat spoke up, suggesting that “if it is 50-50, I would wish to spend extra time with you.”
“That was a game-changer,” Nelson mentioned. He wouldn’t run.
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Life is sweet.
Nelson is busy, however there’s time at residence with Diane, the previous first woman, with meals outdoors on the patio and a few weekends at his not too long ago expanded cabin overlooking the Platte River.
The cabin provides a peaceable, picturesque retreat with animals on the property and Nebraska’s most storied river seen down beneath.
Though the insurance coverage enterprise is headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, Nelson can do a lot of the work from Nebraska, describing his place as “a digital job” that may be largely carried out on-line.
Nelson misplaced simply as soon as, in 1996 to Chuck Hagel when Nelson tried to maneuver to the Senate halfway by way of his second time period as governor, however he received an open Senate seat 4 years later and no different Democrat has prevailed in a statewide race in Nebraska within the final 19 years.
And even come shut.
Nebraska, as soon as multicolored politically, has turned dependably purple in statewide phrases, however is much extra divided between rural Republican and concrete Democratic at present.
In 2018, voters in Omaha and Lincoln favored Democratic challengers over Republican incumbents within the contests for governor, U.S. Senate and the Omaha and Lincoln seats within the U.S. Home of Representatives, whereas all 4 incumbents in these races received reelection.
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It wasn’t simple for Nelson originally when his public service resume was state insurance coverage director and when he, in his personal phrases, was “a family title in just one family in Nebraska.”
Nelson received the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial nomination by a scant 43 votes, and that got here solely after two recounts, after which he edged Republican Gov. Kay Orr by four,030 votes.
As soon as in workplace, he steadily constructed a rising reservoir of assist blended with a nonpartisan taste.
“The theme was One Nebraska,” Nelson mentioned. “Carry individuals collectively. Unite quite than divide. It is arduous to get something accomplished whenever you’re divided.”
4 years later, he was reelected in a landslide, garnering 74% of the vote.
Halfway by way of his second gubernatorial time period, in 1996, Nelson made a bid to maneuver to the U.S. Senate and skilled his solely loss to Republican nominee Hagel.
4 years later, he received a Senate seat.
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Within the Senate, Nelson labored each side of the aisle, forging partnerships with numerous Republican senators on some points, gaining a status as a negotiator and a deal-maker.
And he despatched federal cash residence to assist fund Nebraska initiatives till the congressional earmark course of was seized by Republicans as a political difficulty and was ended following a couple of examples of abuse of the system, most notably earmarked federal funding for what turned referred to as “the bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.
“The lack of earmarks hurts Nebraska,” Nelson mentioned. “And it hurts the power for bipartisan work.
“It was a facilitator and it represented lower than one-half of 1% of the price range.”
Native authorities leaders harassed the wants that had been vital to them, Nelson mentioned. And the following course of helped develop working relationships with the Home, the Senate, state senators and mayors, he mentioned.
Earmarks helped fund “some distinctive concepts,” Nelson mentioned.
Initiatives on the College of Nebraska Medical Heart.
Networking StratCom with the College of Nebraska-Lincoln.
And serving to fund group initiatives all through the state.
Nelson was zeroing in on funding to find a brand new U.S. Division of Agriculture analysis facility on Nebraska Innovation Campus, a challenge that might have jump-started UNL’s new analysis campus and undergird its future, when earmarks got here to an finish.
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The Senate has modified, Nelson mentioned.
“A poisonous environment has developed,” he mentioned.
“Alongside got here the Tea Get together and so they had been dividers; they turned major right into a verb.”
In a hyperpartisan surroundings, a bipartisan deal is troublesome to attain at present, he mentioned.
“It was all the time anticipated that the Inexpensive Care Act would get bipartisan assist to enhance it after some expertise with it,” Nelson mentioned.
Not within the new Congress the place partisan division stands in the way in which.
That form of partisan division can be mirrored now in present Nebraska voting patterns, Nelson mentioned.
“Division is making a stable base of voters who will not stray or cross over,” he mentioned. Democrats who used to win in Nebraska all the time picked up Republican votes alongside the way in which.
A altering information media surroundings, maybe particularly the rise of cable TV information channels that promote political viewpoints, has had an impression, Nelson mentioned.
In Nebraska, Fox Information is on TV screens in eating places and low outlets throughout the state.
“Fox is ‘the loudest voice’ as Roger Ailes all the time wished,” Nelson mentioned.
“Ailes mentioned we’ll have all of the conservatives and the others can divide the remaining, and that is principally what occurred.”
The partisan nature of recent media shops has had an impression, Nelson mentioned.
“One would suppose that Trump’s commerce insurance policies would get agriculture to show round and go the opposite means,” he mentioned.
“And why are so many people who find themselves against federal spending so quiet now?”
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The judiciary is a priority at present, Nelson mentioned, “and that is all people’s fault.”
Too usually now, he mentioned, “the Supreme Court docket legislates by way of the bench and everybody’s accountable for that.”
In filling the 2 most up-to-date vacancies on the court docket, “the president sought two completely conservative judges, not for the nice of the nation,” Nelson mentioned, however to pursue a predictable end result and fulfill his political base.
“We want the perfect judicial minds, judges with nice credentials,” Nelson mentioned. Judges who respect stare decisis (judicial precedent), not judges who get on the bench to legislate.”
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“President Trump’s best achievement is that he has divided the nation,” Nelson mentioned.
“I do not know him. I do not know what number of extra years we are able to tolerate this; it means you possibly can’t come collectively.”
In 2008, Nelson selected to assist Obama over Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“He was the individual I felt may convey individuals collectively, someone I may work with,” Nelson mentioned.
Now, he helps former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2020.
“I feel Biden has a really balanced method to no matter he does, and I feel he’s able to uniting the nation. He matches nearer to my mould, though possibly not as right-center as I’m on some points.”
One of the best authorities “doesn’t lurch to the left or the precise,” Nelson mentioned, “or perform dogma.”
A number of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are “farther left than anyone would ever name me,” Nelson mentioned.
“I all the time requested how a lot issues value,” he mentioned.
“Rhetorical requires socialism are like stepping right into a bear observe.”
Pictures: Ben Nelson’s profession