Earl Benjamin "Ben" Nelson (born May 17, 1941) is the senior U.S. Senator from Nebraska. A Democrat, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000. Nelson entered politics in 1990, when he was elected the 37th Governor of Nebraska. He was easily re-elected in 1994 with 74% of the vote. Nelson ran for an open seat in the U.S. Senate in 1996, losing to Republican Chuck Hagel, and left the Governor's office in January 1999 due to term limits, after serving two full terms. Nelson was elected to the U.S. Senate in the 2000 election after incumbent Bob Kerrey retired.
Ben Nelson was born in McCook, in southwestern Nebraska. He is the only child of Birdella Ruby (née Henderson) and Benjamin Earl Nelson.
He earned a B.A. in 1963, a M.A. in 1965, and a J.D. in 1970 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Nelson made his name and money in the insurance industry. After graduating from law school, Nelson landed a job as assistant general counsel for Central National Insurance Group of Omaha. In 1975, he became state insurance director before going back to work for Central National Insurance as an executive vice president and eventually president. He won his first elected office in 1990 when he became governor of Nebraska.
Governor of Nebraska (1991-1999)
Nelson was elected governor in the state's fourth-closest gubernatorial race in history (he won the closely contested Democratic nomination by only 2 votes) in 1990. He was easily re-elected in 1994 with 74% of the vote – the largest margin of victory for a governor in half a century. As governor, Nelson took some conservative stances on issues in right-leaning Nebraska. He pushed welfare reform before it was done at a national level and opposed President Bill Clinton's efforts on health care. In 1994 Nelson served as the Chairman of the Midwestern Governors Association. While in office, Nelson oversaw the only three executions in the state of Nebraska since the lifting of the moratorium in 1973.
Nebraska's governor has no exclusive power to commute the death sentence, merely sitting on the Board of Clemency. Nelson ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1996 when fellow Democrat Jim Exon retired. He was soundly defeated by Republican businessman and Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel in one of the political upsets of 1996. Nelson left the governor's office in January 1999 after two terms (he was ineligible to run again because of term limits). He was succeeded by Republican Mike Johanns.
U.S. Senate (2001-present)
Ben Nelson was again nominated by the Democrats for the Senate in the 2000 election after his fellow Democrat, incumbent Bob Kerrey, announced his retirement. His opponent was Attorney General Don Stenberg. Nelson won that election with 50.99% of the vote after a campaign in which he spent 50% more ($1,004,985) than his opponent. In November 2004, it was widely rumored that President George W. Bush would choose Nelson as his agriculture secretary in the cabinet.
In the end, the position went to Nelson's gubernatorial successor, Mike Johanns. Ben Nelson was thought to be in danger of losing his seat in 2006, as it was thought his successor as governor, Mike Johanns, was almost certain to run against him. However, that speculation ended when Johanns was appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Nelson easily defeated Ricketts 64-36%, the highest victory margin for a Democratic Senate candidate in Nebraska since Edward Zorinsky won 66 percent of the vote in his 1982 reelection bid. He also won all but 13 counties in the western part of the state, a surprising feat in normally heavily Republican Nebraska.
August 3rd, 2011