The stunning report from Omaha today that two-term Sen Ben Nelson would soon announce his retirement in 2012 has one major political impact: namely, taking Republicans one step closer to the four seats they need for the “magic 51”–the. 51 seats they need for a majority in the Senate in ’13. (Should the GOP win the White House, Republicans will need only three seats, as a vice president from their party rather than Democrat Joe Biden will cast the tie-breaking vote).
Like the retirement announcement of Nelson’s fellow Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota earlier this year, the Nebraskan’s exodus Leaves his party without any heavyweight contender and makes the Republican primary the de facto election. So far, the two major contenders are State Treasurer Don Stenberg, who narrowly lost to Nelson in one of the closest Senate races of 2000, and State Attorney General Jon Bruning. Stenberg is considered the “tea party” candidate and has the backing of Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-SC) while Bruning is regarded as the “establishment” favorite.
Now the biggest political question is which Senate Democrat will follow follow Dorgan and Nelson and leave his party in the political lurch?