By James B. Kelleher
(Reuters) - Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator, said on Wednesday he will run for his old Senate seat, raising the hopes of Democrats that they can keep control of the chamber this election year.
Kerrey's decision was the second piece of good news for Democrats in as many days after Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe said she would not seek re-election because of the partisan gridlock in Washington. Her decision gave Democrats a better chance to try to pick up the Maine seat.
The Nebraska seat is one Republicans hoped to pick up in November since Democratic Senator Ben Nelson had announced earlier he would not seek re-election.
Democrats control the Senate with a majority of 53 seats to 47. Republicans need a net gain of 4 seats to wrest control in the 100-seat chamber, and just 3 if a Republican wins the White House since the vice-president could break a 50-50 tie.
The 68-year-old Kerrey, who sought the Democratic party's presidential nomination in 1992, had said earlier he would stay out of the race.
Kerrey, who lost part of his leg in combat in Vietnam and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, acknowledged his reversal in the brief statement.
"Doing things the conventional way has never been my strong suit," he said.
"I came to realize that my previous decision was the easy one, not the right one. My commitment to serve Nebraska and America, and to be part of the debate about the challenges we face was too strong to dismiss."
He said he planned to file the necessary paperwork on Wednesday.
Kerrey is the Democrat's best hope of keeping the Nebraska Senate seat because he is well known and can raise money, Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told Reuters earlier in the week.
But Duffy predicted that some of Kerrey's positions, including his belief "that health care reform didn't go far enough, will not be popular in Nebraska."
Jordan McGrain, the executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party, said Kerrey, who has lived in New York City since he left the Senate in 2001, would face an uphill fight.
"Ben Nelson's been forced into retirement because it was apparent he could not win re-election," McGrain said.
"Bob Kerrey's a personality. But he hasn't lived in the state in 12 years and he's arguably even more liberal than Ben Nelson on Obamacare, on cap and trade, on partial-birth abortions and a host of other issues. He's going to have some challenges," he said referring to health care and environmental issues.
Several Republicans have announced they are running for the Nebraska seat, including Attorney General Jon Bruning, who has the highest political profile of the group.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Jackie Frank)