Hagel Postpones Decision on 2008 Bid

By Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com staff writer
Monday, March 12, 2007; 12:46 PM

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) postponed a final decision on a presidential bid today and again declined to rule out the possibility that he would run as an independent.

"In making this announcement, I believe there will still be political options open to me at a later date," Hagel said at a news conference this morning in Omaha. "I cannot control that, and I do not worry about it."

The announcement, which was billed by Hagel and his staff as a definitive answer to questions about his political future, left far more questions than answers.

Hagel offered no insight into whether a presidential candidacy would preclude a run for a third Senate term, saying only that he would continue to raise money for both his Senate campaign committee and his political action committee.

If Hagel opts not to run for the Senate again, Republicans believe Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns would be their strongest candidate to hold the seat. Johanns served as the governor of Nebraska from 1998 until 2005. Democrats would likely turn to Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, who has said he would be interested in a run if Hagel retires.

Rhetorically, at least, Hagel sounded the part of a presidential candidate this morning. He opened his remarks by declaring that "America stands at a historic crossroads in its history" and adding: "America's response to the challenges and opportunities that confront us today will define our future."

If he decided to run, Hagel would instantly become the most prominent voice in the GOP field in opposition to President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq.

And Hagel, who has refused to rule out a run as an independent, stoked those flames again today, repeatedly emphasizing that he believed American politics were going through a sea change.

"We are experiencing a political reorientation, a redefining and moving toward a new political center of gravity," said Hagel. "This movement is bigger than both parties."

While Hagel put his presidential hopes on hold for the time being, former senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) on Sunday acknowledged the possibility that he might run for national office in 2008.

"I'm giving some thought to it, going to leave the door open," Thompson said on Fox News Channel Sunday.

Thompson served in the Senate from 1994 to 2003. He is a well-known actor who currently stars in "Law and Order" on NBC.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company