Nebraska AG Bruning's political star rising

Chris Rizo Feb. 5, 2010, 3:22am

Jon Bruning (R)

LINCOLN, Neb. (Legal Newsline)-Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning's political star continues to rise, political observers told Legal Newsline.

"He is a very aggressive politician; he has a very bright future," said University of Nebraska political science lecturer Richard Fellman.

Bruning, a 40-year-old conservative Republican, was elected attorney general in 2002 and was handily reelected in 2006 with no Democratic opposition -- after having served six years in the Nebraska Legislature.

"He would like to move to a higher office and he can do that. He campaigns well and constantly," said Fellman, a former Democratic state senator.

Although Bruning only says he is committed to run for a third term as the Cornhusker State's chief legal officer, political observers say he could be well positioned to take on his state's senior U.S. senator -- Democrat Ben Nelson -- when he is up for reelection in 2012.

"Bruning has a handsome war chest and he is ready when the opportunity appears," Fellman said. Bruning, he added, would only be limited in future races by who the competition might be.

"Given the right situation, Bruning could be tough competition for Democrats," whether in a U.S. Senate or gubernatorial race," Fellman said in a telephone interview from his office in Omaha.

Although Nelson is currently down in the polls, Fellman said that does not mean that he will be vulnerable come election time.

"I just don't think Nelson is necessarily going to be easy to beat," Fellman said, noting that if Nelson seeks reelection he will almost assuredly have "all the money he needs" and the full force of the Democratic Party behind him. "Although he is in trouble today certainly doesn't mean that he's going to be in trouble three years from now."

"I have been around long enough to know that everyday is a new day in politics," Fellman said.

In 2007, the state Republican Party blocked Bruning from running for U.S. Senate, Fellman said. Bruning dropped out of the primary race after fellow Republican Mike Johanns entered the contest to succeed outgoing Republican Chuck Hagel.

Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, chairwoman of the Political Science Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said Bruning's political future "largely depends" on how much support he receives from the state GOP.

"Bruning has a lot of political ambition," she said. "I'm just not sure of the extent to which the Republican Party will support him."

Bruning currently serves as this year's president of the National Association of Attorneys General. Shortly after his election to the post, Bruning launched a full-out assault against the original General Motors Corp. bankruptcy plan, drawing national media attention.

He successfully led a legion of state attorneys general in their opposition to the then-struggling automaker's reorganization plan, saying it would have disregarded state consumer protection laws around the nation.

It is perhaps Bruning's high-profile nature that has helped him to raise large sums of campaign cash. Last year, he was able to rake in $915,000. His campaign started this year with $780,000 in cash on hand and $95,000 in investments.

Fellman said Bruning's "shrewd" political acumen is only further boosted by the fact that he has an "excellent" fundraising team.

Bruning is not expected to have to spend much money on his reelection bid this year. He does not need to, analysts say. The popular attorney general is heavily favored to win. He is being challenged by Democrat E. A. Argyrakis, an Omaha attorney.

If Bruning decides to run for U.S. Senate, he would not be allowed to transfer his campaign war chest to a Senate bid. He could, however, use the funds to run for governor. This year, Republican Gov. Dave Heineman is seeking reelection.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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