Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey Calls It Quits

By Bob Melvin | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - Senator Bob Kerrey announced on Thursday that he will not seek re-election this year, saying it was time for him to return to private life. Kerrey's decision is considered a setback for Democratic hopes of making gains in the Senate.

"It's a deeply personal decision, but I feel my spiritual side needs to be filled back up," Kerrey said at a news conference attended by his two children.

The Senate has a 55-45 Republican majority. Kerrey's seat was considered safe despite being a Democrat in a state that traditionally votes Republican.

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle expressed his "disappointment" in Kerrey's decision to leave office. Daschle said Kerrey's departure will have an impact on the leadership in the Senate, but he added that the party's chances of regaining control of the Senate remain "about 50-50."

David DiMartino, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said, "We're in no way conceding this (Kerrey's) senate seat. We will do what we need to do to keep that seat."

A number of names have been forwarded as Kerrey's successor in the Senate, including former Democratic Governor Ben Nelson and former University of Nebraska head football coach Tom Osborne, a Republican.

Two certain candidates for Kerrey's seat are Republicans Elliott Rustad, a physician, and state Attorney General Don Stenberg. They already have announced their candidacies.

Kerrey, 56, has been in the Senate since 1989 and once sought the Democratic presidential nomination. He is a former Nebraska governor, a Vietnam war hero and a millionaire.

There is speculation Kerrey has been offered the presidency of the New School University in New York City and may accept that post soon.