Alexandria, VA — As Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) already faces an extremely challenging re-election environment, it will be even more difficult for him in a presidential election cycle, when he will be running alongside Barack Obama. In an off-year re-elect, extremely vulnerable incumbents like Nelson have a better opportunity to define their record and their brand unencumbered by top-of-the-ticket linkages.
But 2012 will ensure the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the aggressive third party groups who will again dominate the paid media landscape have an easy mark in tagging Nelson as a willing, leading partner of the “Obama team”. Is it fair? That will all get lost in the wash and the record itself will determine his survivability.
To be sure, the Nelson re-elect will be more complex than simplistic linkages, and can surely point to in-state successes and examples of breaking with Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But regardless, the structural parameters already framing the race and the dialogue to follow will make this a decidedly uphill contest — especially as Nebraska is a relatively cheap paid media state, which allows even marginal third party groups to get on the air with blunt advertising messages.
It was also interesting to note key Nelson staff are already leaving: it was recently reported that Mike Hogan, his deputy chief of staff on Capitol Hill, with a strong health care policy background, is joining Ogilvy as a senior Vice-President. Gordon Hensley