Might Ben Nelson Switch Parties for 2012?

You've got to wonder about my Senator, Ben Nelson (D-NE).

Although he gets a reprieve for 2010, his 2012 re-election bid will be Nebraska's next Senate race, and as his and his party's approval ratings dip and his race grows closer, he's started to tack even harder hard to the right than usual. He supported his party's top priority, health care reform, but only after he won major conservative and parochial concessions on abortion and Medicaid. He watered down the stimulus. He's not likely to support one of the next major initiatives, clean energy reform (although thankfully he is still open to negotiation and consideration). And now he will oppose one of the President's appointees to the National Labor Relations Board because the man is pro-labor, never mind that a pro-labor Democrat won the White House with 53% of the popular vote.  Politico's Manu Raju:
The move is likely to infuriate labor groups who have fought hard for Craig Becker's nomination to serve on the five-member NLRB - and will likely give Republicans enough support to sustain a filibuster Tuesday.
Nelson, a conservative Democrat up for reelection in 2012, has seen his approval ratings drop sharply since he lent his support for Obama's health care bill in December and secured deals for Nebraska's Medicaid payments.

His latest decision could help him tout his independent credentials back home, but will likely generate anger from the left, which says Becker is a well-qualified nominee who has been denigrated by his opponents.
One has to wonder. If Nelson is willing to abandon his positions when the politics get perilous, might he be willing to abandon his party if the politics get even worse? If the economy doesn't improve by November 2010 and Republicans make big gains, will Nelson switch parties for his re-election run?
I admire that the man is willing to act on his own and fight hard for his state, and his concession-based votes for health care and the stimulus were better than letting the bill die and did help bring other conservative Democrats on board, so I'm more frustrated with the man than I am angry. Nevertheless, it will take a lot of national DNC/DRSC investment to keep his seat, and you'd think he'd try to curry a little more favor with those groups and their investors than he has done. It will be interesting to see how he votes and behaves in 2011.
I believe that Ben Nelson will stay a Democrat, and for that I am thankful. There are no rumors to the contrary - this is just me wondering aloud. Still, it strikes me as possible cause for concern, however slight. I'm sure if we asked his office they would vigorously deny that the thought has ever crossed his mind, but that's what Arlen Specter was saying hours before his 2009 switch, too.


Tags: Ben Nelson, Nebraska (all tags)



Retirement more likely

Schumer had to talk Nelson into running again in 2006 after one term. After the amount of scrutiny Nelson has gotten in the last year or two, he's probably just not having fun anymore. I think he's gonna pick up the bat and head home.

by Trowaman 2010-02-09 11:28AM | 0 recs
RE: Retirement more likely

I agree, especially if 2011 polls show him way behind Republican challengers.

If he switches parties he could easily lose a GOP primary.

by desmoinesdem 2010-02-09 12:14PM | 0 recs

I was with you for a while, Nathan, until you got to "I believe that Ben Nelson will stay a Democrat, and for that I am thankful."

You thoroughly detailed all the ways in which Nelson has undermined the Democratic Party's agenda, all the positions he's taken that have made life more difficult for the most popular Democratic President in the last 40 years...and yet you want him to remain a Democrat?

Why?  What do we gain from having him in the party?  We can't count on him on breaking filibusters.  We can't count on him on voting for our policies.  What advantage is there to having him on our side of the aisle?  Better he become a Republican and we beat a conservative Republican somewhere else with a progressive Democrat. 

by rayspace 2010-02-09 11:48AM | 2 recs
RE: Why?

"Better he become a Republican and we beat a conservative Republican somewhere else with a progressive Democrat."

I'd rather have a conservative Democrat and a progressive Democrat serve together than a conservative Republican and a progressive Democrat. If it's a choice between the two seats you pose, than I'm with you, but what ultimately matters is increasing the progressiveness of the entire Senate. That means a move from right-wing to center-right in some states and a move from center-right to progressive in others. Replace Nelson with a Republican but fail to balance it with a more progressive seat elsewhere and you're in real trouble.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-02-09 11:55AM | 0 recs
RE: Why?

NE is an odd state. Puts up guys like Hagel who infuriates the right, and Nelson who infuriates the left.

Nelson will not switch parties because the GOP dosn't want him. The current Gov. wants to run for senate in 2012. My take is Nelson will retire. He should have retired in 2006 - after voting for both Bush Tax cuts and the Medicare Rx expansion - he had done enough damage. But I agree with Nathan - we're unlikely to ever get a progressive senator out of NE - and until we can Nelson will ahve to stay, warts and all. I do wish we could avoid him as the 60th vote however - and concentrate on Snowe or someone else.

by vecky 2010-02-09 12:03PM | 1 recs
RE: Why?

I think I now disagree.  A Republican will attack the policy, but that is understood and expected.  When Nelson attacks policy, he undermines the policy, because then it can be looked at as, "Even the Democrats don't like it".

On top of that, the fact that he won't even vote for cloture on presidential appointees and Democratic Platform issues, means he is kind of a poison pill.  We can look like we almost made it, by getting 58 Democratic Senators, and try to get 2 Republicans to break the filibuster, but if we succeed he can just step up and stop it anyway.

by Tantris 2010-02-09 02:22PM | 2 recs
RE: Why?

If for some reason this posts twice, I apologize.  I was in the midst of typing and lost what I was doing, I think.

Anyway, I just don't agree with your point, Nathan.  Nelson has gone from being someone who often opposed Democratic positions to one who opposes Democratic positions all the time.  Nelson does nothing to increase the progressiveness of the Senate--he's not a progressive, for heaven's sake.  What's the difference between having a Republican who opposes us on everything, and a Democrat who opposes us on everything?  In fact, as others have noted, Nelson is worse than a Republican, because his opposition gives cover to the Republicans ("even the Democrats oppose this bill").

As for his vote for the stimulus, let's remember that he voted for it after arbitrarily saying that the President's original amount was too large, despite the opinion of many leading economists (including Krugman, who won the Nobel Prize, for crying out loud) that it was not large enough.  Nelson had no alternative, and no reason, for asking that the stimulus be cut, he just wanted it to be smaller.  In so doing, he undermined the effectiveness of it and killed the chances for a second stimulus, which we so badly need.

Replace him with a conservative Republican, and the vote on major Democratic proposals will change not at all.

by rayspace 2010-02-09 03:02PM | 1 recs
RE: Why?

Nelson voted for the stimulus.  Tom Osborne likely would not have.

Sure, I would trade Nelson for a progressive Democrat from some other state, but that's a fictional tradeoff. We don't actually get to make that swap.  If we lose Nelson we get nothing in return, and if we gain a progressive Democrat elsewhere we give up nothing in return.

by Steve M 2010-02-09 02:01PM | 0 recs
Why Nelson should be primaried

I used to share your outlook on keeping Nelson but don't anymore. Traditionally, Nelson often voted against the Party but didn't go on the airways to criticize the Democrats. With their public demonizing of Democratic policy positions & efforts, he, Liberman, Lincoln, Landrieu, in concert with RW attacks, have successfully branded Democratic positions as far left & irresponsible. This will have a far greater future effect on making it difficult to elect Democrats than the small gain of having Nelson sometimes voting with the Democrats.

BTW, with Nelson's tack right, it obvious he's going to run for reelection whether as a Democrat or Repub.

by carter1 2010-02-09 01:04PM | 1 recs
Get rid of him.

The ConDems have proven they're a cancer that damages the Democratic Party and the country as a whole. 

They opposed a popular thing like the public option, something that could have also become a new Social Security or MediCare: an untouchable program. 

They've opposed a base builder like the Employee Free Choice Act. 

They stalled the healthcare bill, letting the Teabaggers and the media go after Obama and drag his and the party's numbers down and putting us the in predicament we're in now (not to mention letting people die). 

They've required provisions in their "compromise" healthcare plan that are bad policy and bad politics (like stripping away the employer mandate--something that smells like a Lincoln job to help Wal-Mart).  

They've opposed progressive agenda items (Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Lilly Ledbetter Act, SCHIP, etc.) and turning off the base.  

They're pushing for more Republican-like policies (tax cuts!!) that got us into this mess. 

They add bipartisan and "moderate" credence to Republicans and they're policies and talking points and shield them with their support (how many times have you seen a Republican bring up support for their agenda from ConDems or opposition from ConDems to the Democratic as a battering ram?). 

They destroy Democratic messaging and prevent us from stating what we stand for (either by actively undermining it or by requiring Democratic leadership be so vague so they keep the ConDems in line) or answering Republican charges (such as when they reinforce them, e.g. "Unlike some Democrats, I won't take your guns," etc.)

And they're habitually vulnerable.

by TheUnknown285 2010-02-09 02:06PM | 1 recs
RE: Why?

Vecky, don't forget that in 2006, Nelson provided bipartisan cover for Alito's ascencion to the Supreme Court.  Sweet.

by rayspace 2010-02-09 03:07PM | 1 recs
RE: Why?

Oh yes, I know. And he was not the only one. Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad, Tim Johnson and Byrd voted for confirmation too. On the GOP side only Chaffee voted against, even "moderates" like Snowe and Collins voted for.

There are quite a few conserva-dems in the party - that's a part of the whole "Big Tent" strategy.

by vecky 2010-02-09 05:18PM | 0 recs
What in the hell are you talking about?

"I admire that the man is willing to act on his own and fight hard for his state..."

Considering the completely dissproportional way in which HCR would have HELPED his state, I don't see how you could say that watering it down and making it less effective is somehow "fighting hard for his state" - at all.

He's not working for his constituents, he's working for his campaign contributors.


by The BBQ Chicken Madness 2010-02-09 03:44PM | 2 recs
RE: What in the hell are you talking about?

Depends on what you mean by "less effective." "Less effective" than the bill in its original form? Yes, I'm with you. "Less effective" than the status quo of health care in Nebraska? Absolutely not. Watering down the bill and passing it is better than not passing it at all. It may help the insurance companies, but it also helps the uninsured and while I don't like that trade, it's one worth making.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-02-09 04:07PM | 0 recs
RE: What in the hell are you talking about?

Nelson watered down the bill, so how is he fighting for his constituents?  He is the cause of some of the watering down of a bill that would have helped his state disproportionately.  So, what you are saying is that he fought hard to please the corporations so that he could help his state by passing a weaker bill and lining his campaign coffers at the same time?  We could also state this as, "he fought hard to line his campaign coffers, while being forced to maybe accept some bill being passed, and doing what he can to sabotage that bill"?

by Tantris 2010-02-09 04:15PM | 0 recs
RE: What in the hell are you talking about?

Ahh yes, but most of the leg-work was done by Liberman. It's more than probable that Nelson would have gone along with the Medicare buy-in had Lierman not raised a fuss.

by vecky 2010-02-09 05:15PM | 0 recs
RE: What in the hell are you talking about?

Not sure what your point is.  Lieberman isn't now filibustering Presidential appointees.  So, Nelson was horrible on health care, but Lieberman might have been worse(and I am not sure of that).  Lieberman isn't even a part of the Democratic Party.  Nelson is continuing to stand in the way of Democratic Party priorities.

by Tantris 2010-02-10 08:17AM | 0 recs
RE: What in the hell are you talking about?

Maybe you should think of Nelson less as a Conservative Dem and more as a Moderate Republican. Then it starts to make sense.

by vecky 2010-02-10 11:53AM | 0 recs
RE: What in the hell are you talking about?

You've made my exact point, and contridicted your own.

I fully agree that passing something is better than nothing.  I'm even for passing the Senate bill as-is if it's the only way we get something signed into law.  It's a crappy step forward, but a step forward none the less.  But that has NOTHING to do with your arguement that Sen. Nelson was "fighting for his constituents" in the HCR debate.

You concede that the original bill would have been better for Nebraskans than the watered down bill.  Yet, somehow you feel that Sen. Nelson watering down that bill is "fighting for his constituents".  That just doesn't jibe.  The original bill was better, and then Nelson made it worse.  Therefore, he was fighting AGAINST his constituents' interests.

Given the way Republicans are behaving in the Congress, I agree that I'd much rather have a Blue Dog than a Republican in that seat, even when BDs are as subversive as they are.  But to say that they are working on behalf of the people of their state when it's plainly and demonstratively clear that they are not, is a mistake.

by The BBQ Chicken Madness 2010-02-10 10:03AM | 0 recs
RE: What in the hell are you talking about?

Better or worse does not necessarily equal for or against. NE was one of the few states where the PO for example was not popular, the medicaid deal helped the state, but was not popular either, and the abortion restrictions while once again favorable to NE did not elicit a positive response. One can in fact argue that had Nelson simply oppossed the bill flat out like his GOP counter-part Johanns (R) it would have been viewed favorably even though no bill would not be better for the state (12.5% under 65 have no insurance, medicaid enrollement and thus expenses expanding rapidly).

by vecky 2010-02-10 12:02PM | 0 recs
RE: What in the hell are you talking about?

Fighting for one's constituents means two things - doing everything you can to pass legislation that helps them, and also doing everything you can to make that legislation help them more.

It's that simple...and he did neither.  In fact, he did almost the exact opposite.

by The BBQ Chicken Madness 2010-02-10 12:42PM | 1 recs
RE: What in the hell are you talking about?

To that I would also add - oppossing legislation that they also oppose. I will argee he did none of them. Like Liberman and Lincoln he just succedded in pissing off both sides.

by vecky 2010-02-11 01:21AM | 0 recs


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