Speculation About Hagel Announcement Begins
Thursday, March 8, 2007; 6:14 PM
Speculation ran rampant today about just what Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) will announce during a planned news conference early next week.
Hagel's options include a bid for the 2008 presidential nomination as either a Republican or an independent, a re-election race to the seat he has held since 1996 or retirement from elected office.
Most Republican observers believe that Hagel will announce a bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Monday in Omaha, but warn that he largely keeps his own counsel, making it difficult to predict his plans.
Mike Buttry, a spokesman for Hagel, was tight-lipped about the senator's forthcoming announcement, saying only, "He will hold a news conference Monday regarding his future plans."
Hagel has risen to political prominence in part because of his increasingly vitriolic criticism of President Bush's approach to the war in Iraq, but his record is reliably conservative on other matters -- a profile that may be appealing to a broad cross-section of potential voters.
"He is a movement conservative with lots of liberal support because of his public criticism of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war," said former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1992 and, like Hagel, is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.
A major problem for Hagel is that while he may be some Democrats' favorite Republican, it remains unclear whether he could seriously compete for the Republican presidential nomination given his ardent opposition to the Bush Administration's Iraq strategy.
Some have speculated that knowing the challenge that he would face in a Republican primary, largely as a result of his positioning on the war, Hagel would consider a run as an independent -- perhaps linking himself to Unity 08, a bipartisan group of political professionals attempting to organize a viable third party candidacy.
The other major stumbling block for Hagel is financial. Unlike many of his potential rivals for the nomination, Hagel has done little spadework to build a national fundraising organization that would provide the financial foundation of a candidacy. Hagel ended 2006 with just $141,000 in his Senate campaign account -- a paltry sum in a primary fight that independent observers estimate could cost between $50 million and $100 million.
"Obviously he has thought out the policies on which he will base his candidacy," said Bob Stevenson, a Republican political consultant and past adviser to former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). "But will he have the organization and the money he will need to make a serious run?"
Since arriving in the Senate in 1996, Hagel has been the subject of rumors regarding a national candidacy due to his biography -- decorated Vietnam veteran, successful businessman, senator -- and personal charisma. That ambition was temporarily set aside in 2000 as Hagel was one of only a handful of senators who supported the upstart presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
McCain's decision to run for the White House in 2008 seemed to again foreclose Hagel's chances, as the two had long been allies and friends. Butthe two men have parted ways dramatically in their views of the proper way forward in Iraq, a fissure that some believe has created an opening for Hagel.
"Perception has always been that he wasn't viable because he couldn't 'out McCain John McCain,'" said Alex Vogel a Republican lobbyist not affiliated with any of the 2008 candidates. "Now that [Hagel] and McCain have split over the war, he's betting there's a road from Omaha to Des Moines."
Asked yesterday about a potential Hagel candidacy, McCain told CNN: "He's an American hero and a person I love dearly."