(CNN) – Former Sen. Bob Kerrey said Tuesday that he won't run for the open Senate seat in Nebraska that he once held, deflating Democrats hopes of keeping the seat in party hands.
"I have given the decision of becoming a candidate for the U.S. Senate very serious thought and prayer. For many reasons I nearly said yes. In the end I choose to remain a private citizen," said Kerrey in a statement. "To those who urged me to do so, I am sorry, very sorry to have disappointed you. I hope you understand that I have chosen what I believe is best for my family and me."
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Kerrey represented Nebraska in the Senate from 1989 to 2001, after serving for four years as the state's governor. Kerrey declined to run for re-election to his Senate seat in the 2000 election. Kerrey, who also served as a Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War and received the Medal of Honor, made an unsuccessful bid for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination.
Late last year two-term Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson announced he would not run for re-election in November. Kerrey, who moved to New York City after retiring from the Senate in 2001, spent part of last month back in Nebraska as he weighed a campaign bid.
While Kerrey may have been the Democrats' best candidate for keeping the seat, if he had run, he would have most likely been slammed by Republicans for his decision over a decade ago to leave the Senate, and for his time as president of the New School, a self-described progressive university in New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood. His time in New York City may not have played well in Nebraska, which politically has become more conservative since Kerrey left office.
"In a last ditch effort to keep this seat in President Obama's hands, national Democrats put the full-court press on Bob Kerrey to run for the U.S. Senate," said National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Brian Walsh, in a statement. "Kerrey's decision to stay in New York is a blow to the Democrats' hopes of holding their Senate majority and reiterates why we believe Nebraskans will elect a fiscally-responsible, conservative Republican Senator next fall."
The Republican field for the Senate nomination is jam packed. It includes Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, state Treasurer Don Stenberg, state Sen. Deb Fischer, Pat Flynn, who's an investment banker. At least five Democrats are considering bids for their party's Senate nomination.
"As we have seen in the last several weeks, Republicans are at each other's throats in Nebraska. The Republican primary in the state has become a proxy war between Mitch McConnell's ethically challenged candidate Jon Bruning and Jim DeMint's tea partier Don Stenberg, which will provide an opportunity for Democrats to remain competitive," said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Communications Director Matt Canter.
"We continue to play offense this election cycle in Massachusetts, Nevada, Arizona, and Indiana, and remain fully confident that we will hold the majority next year," adds Canter.
Democrats currently have a 53 to 47 majority in the Senate. They are defending 23 seats (21 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the party) next year, with the GOP defending 10 seats.
– Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhauserCNN