CNN/TIME AllPolitics Vote '96

Another Democrat In Nebraska? Maybe

OMAHA, Neb. (AllPolitics, Nov. 3) -- The Democrats' hold on both Senate seats in conservative-leaning Nebraska seemed at risk when three-term incumbent Jim Exon decided not to run this year. But Nebraska's other Senate Democrat, Bob Kerrey, is also chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and he scored a recruiting coup when popular Democratic Gov. Ben Nelson announced for the seat.

In 1994, Nelson, who projects an image as a conservative Democrat, won a second term as governor with 74 percent of the vote, even as Republicans were making huge gains nationally in control of governorships.

Nelson's Republican challenger, businessman Chuck Hagel, must hope he can make lightning strike twice this year. He scored a come-from-behind victory over state Attorney General Don Stenberg in the Republican primary last May.

Hagel, a former deputy director of the Veterans Administration, who was also chief operating officer of the 1990 Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations, returned to Omaha in 1992 and now serves as president of a local investment banking firm.

Taking a page from Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, Hagel is hoping to catch his opponent by proposing a major tax cut, which he says would be offset by reducing the budgets of federal regulatory agencies, shifting funding and control of welfare and Medicaid to the states, cutting the projected increase in Medicare spending and eliminating the Energy, Commerce, Education and Housing and Urban Development departments.

But Hagel, like Dole, has had to defend himself against charges that his plan would increase the federal deficit. Nelson's campaign, for example, trumpeted the comments of Greg Hayden, a University of Nebraska at Lincoln economist, who said, "These types of promises are what have us in the (deficit) mess we are (in) today."

Nelson, who, as required by state law, proposed six balanced budgets as governor, came out with his own plan to balance the federal budget. He also has defended the Education Department against Hagel's proposal to eliminate it.

Echoing a line of attack used by Stenberg in the primary, Nelson says Hagel returned to the state from Washington, D.C., specifically to run for the Senate. Republicans retort by pointing out that Nelson promised during his 1994 re-election to serve all four years of his second term as governor.

Congressional Quarterly contributed to this report.

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