WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ben Nelson's Hamlet routine ended Tuesday as the Nebraska Democrat announced that he would retire from the Senate at the end of this term. The announcement came after Democratic Party committees and a supportive super PAC had already spent more than $1.5 million to boost his reelection.
Nelson, a two-term senator who was expected to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents running in 2012, received support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in October, when the committee transferred $1.2 million to the Nebraska Democratic Party, a 527 group, to run advertisements in support of Nelson. Also coming to Nelson's aid was Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC run by former Senate leadership aides, with $406,344 in television ads.
The ads from both the Nebraska Democratic Party and Majority PAC were aired to address a barrage of ads from the conservative nonprofits Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity. In an October interview with the Capitol Hill paper Roll Call, Nelson said that the outside help was a "response to all the negative ads that were run about me by Americans for Prosperity and Karl Rove's PAC, and so it's more in that line than anything else."
In 2011, Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-linked nonprofit, ran four separate ad campaigns targeting Nelson that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The full numbers are not immediately available because the anti-Nelson spots were so-called issue ads that did not make a direct electoral appeal and, therefore, were not subject to disclosure requirements.
The most recent ad, which came with a $500,000 ad buy, knocked Nelson for his vote to pass the Affordable Care Act into law. It focused on Nelson's efforts to secure a special Medicare deal for seniors in his state that came to be known as the "Cornhusker kickback." This ad ran at the same time that both Americans for Prosperity and the National Republican Senatorial Committee cut videos attacking Nelson for his support of the health care law and the Cornhusker kickback.
"Obamacare destroyed Ben Nelson," Crossroads GPS spokesman Jonathan Collegio said. "He is the latest and greatest casualty of one of the least popular pieces of legislation in history."
Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity sought to push Nelson into retiring by showcasing the arguments that they would employ if he were to run for reelection.