Democrat Ben Nelson Will Retire from the Senate

Posted: Dec 27, 2011 3:19 PM

Presidential campaign politics aside, Democrats are going to have quite on job on their hands just holding on to the Senate after 2012. There are 23 Democrat-controlled Senate seats in the mix this November, but only 10 Republican-controlled seats--Republicans only need to grab four seats to take control of the chamber. It therefore can hardly be welcome news in the Democrat camp that Sen. Ben Nelson, the senior Democrat from Nebraska, today plans to announce his retirement from office at the end of his second term. Politico reports:

The 70-year-old Nelson was considered one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents this cycle. GOP-affiliated outside groups have already dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV ads bashing Nelson, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent over $1 million on its own ad blitz to bolster his image.

The White House and top Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Chuck Schumer of New York, had quietly mounted a pressure campaign to keep Nelson from retiring. Nelson has more than $3 million in his campaign war chest, and his approval rating solidified after falling over the past several years. Nelson can give unlimited amounts to the DSCC from his reelection fund, Democratic sources noted. ...

But with Nelson stepping down, the Democrats’ hold on the Senate is in serious doubt, although party leaders believe they can still do so.

Nelson's reelection prospects were far from a sure thing--even with his moderate credentials, his well-publicized vote for the health care overhaul as well as the 2009 stimulus plan weren't likely to go over well in his generally conservative state. Still, Democrats now have to thresh out and market a viable alternative with less than a year to go until election day, making it more likely that a Republican could pick up the seat.