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 large 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 dwelling in Omaha, busy, engaged and visibly contented.
He lately was named the CEO of Florida-based Insurance coverage Care Direct, one of many nation’s largest well being and life insurance coverage businesses, and he is an legal professional within the Lamson Dugan & Murray regulation agency headquartered on Regency Parkway Drive not removed from his dwelling.
And he is writing a ebook concerning the Senate and his time there.
His writer needs it available on the market 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 may be favorable to Nebraska.
Nelson finally 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 much wider storyline in thoughts for his ebook.
“It is a story about when the Senate labored, when bipartisan was actual, not simply ballyhooed,” he stated as he settled right into a chair in his snug Omaha dwelling with Angel and Tazzie, the 2 household canine, eagerly becoming a member of the dialog.
The doable, maybe even possible, title of the ebook 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 ebook 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 word of Nelson’s Obamacare negotiation expertise: “They owned the state of Nebraska,” the president stated. “Their finest senator did one of many biggest 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, a minimum of on the time he was there, Nelson stated, “You did not have to confirm, simply belief.”
And that may 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 chuckle.
A handshake is not sufficient within the Senate right this moment, Nelson stated.
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“I noticed the adjustments and that was the primary cause I did not search a 3rd time period,” he stated.
As a part of reaching a choice 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 stated Hickman advised him. “However you are gonna win. Your opposition goes to be louder and possibly a bit extra decided.”
Nelson stated 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 annoyed” in what was destined to be a way more partisan Senate, far much less open to bipartisan cooperation.
“My political math at all times has been addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division,” he stated.
“And I did not see a spot for bipartisan offers.”
Nelson stated son Pat spoke up, suggesting that “if it is 50-50, I might prefer to spend extra time with you.”
“That was a game-changer,” Nelson stated. He wouldn’t run.
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Life is sweet.
Nelson is busy, however there’s time at dwelling with Diane, the previous first woman, with meals exterior on the patio and a few weekends at his lately expanded cabin overlooking the Platte River.
The cabin gives 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 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 crimson in statewide phrases, however is way extra divided between rural Republican and concrete Democratic right this moment.
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 initially 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 stated. “Convey individuals collectively. Unite moderately than divide. It is arduous to get something carried out once you’re divided.”
4 years later, he was reelected in a landslide, garnering 74% of the vote.
Halfway by 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 quite a lot of Republican senators on some points, gaining a fame as a negotiator and a deal-maker.
And he despatched federal cash dwelling to assist fund Nebraska initiatives till the congressional earmark course of was seized by Republicans as a political concern and was ended following a couple of examples of abuse of the system, most notably earmarked federal funding for what turned often called “the bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.
“The lack of earmarks hurts Nebraska,” Nelson stated. “And it hurts the power for bipartisan work.
“It was a facilitator and it represented lower than one-half of 1% of the finances.”
Native authorities leaders burdened the wants that had been vital to them, Nelson stated. And the following course of helped develop working relationships with the Home, the Senate, state senators and mayors, he stated.
Earmarks helped fund “some distinctive concepts,” Nelson stated.
Initiatives on the College of Nebraska Medical Middle.
Networking StratCom with the College of Nebraska-Lincoln.
And serving to fund neighborhood 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 venture that may 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 stated.
“A poisonous environment has developed,” he stated.
“Alongside got here the Tea Social gathering they usually had been dividers; they turned main right into a verb.”
In a hyperpartisan surroundings, a bipartisan deal is tough to attain right this moment, he stated.
“It was at all times anticipated that the Inexpensive Care Act would get bipartisan assist to enhance it after some expertise with it,” Nelson stated.
Not within the new Congress the place partisan division stands in the best way.
That form of partisan division can also be mirrored now in present Nebraska voting patterns, Nelson stated.
“Division is making a stable base of voters who will not stray or cross over,” he stated. Democrats who used to win in Nebraska at all times picked up Republican votes alongside the best way.
A altering information media surroundings, maybe particularly the rise of cable TV information channels that promote political viewpoints, has had an impression, Nelson stated.
In Nebraska, Fox Information is on TV screens in eating places and occasional outlets throughout the state.
“Fox is ‘the loudest voice’ as Roger Ailes at all times wished,” Nelson stated.
“Ailes stated we’ll have all of the conservatives and the others can divide the remainder, and that is mainly what occurred.”
The partisan nature of recent media shops has had an impression, Nelson stated.
“One would suppose that Trump’s commerce insurance policies would get agriculture to show round and go the opposite approach,” he stated.
“And why are so many people who find themselves against federal spending so quiet now?”
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The judiciary is a priority right this moment, Nelson stated, “and that is everyone’s fault.”
Too typically now, he stated, “the Supreme Court docket legislates by the bench and everybody’s guilty for that.”
In filling the 2 most up-to-date vacancies on the courtroom, “the president sought two completely conservative judges, not for the great of the nation,” Nelson stated, however to pursue a predictable end result and fulfill his political base.
“We want the very best judicial minds, judges with nice credentials,” Nelson stated. Judges who respect stare decisis (judicial precedent), not judges who get on the bench to legislate.”
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“President Trump’s biggest achievement is that he has divided the nation,” Nelson stated.
“I do not know him. I do not know what number of extra years we are able to tolerate this; it means you’ll be able to’t come collectively.”
In 2008, Nelson selected to assist Obama over Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“He was the particular person I felt might carry individuals collectively, any individual I might work with,” Nelson stated.
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 mildew, though possibly not as right-center as I’m on some points.”
The perfect authorities “doesn’t lurch to the left or the fitting,” Nelson stated, “or perform dogma.”
Among the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are “farther left than anyone would ever name me,” Nelson stated.
“I at all times requested how a lot issues value,” he stated.
“Rhetorical requires socialism are like stepping right into a bear observe.”
Photographs: Ben Nelson’s profession