Hagel Puts Off Decision on 2008 Bid

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By MARGERY BECK
The Associated Press
Monday, March 12, 2007; 9:54 PM

OMAHA, Neb. -- Sen. Chuck Hagel, one of the more forceful Republican voices in opposition to the Iraq war, on Monday put off a decision about a possible presidential bid, saying he wanted to focus on the conflict and other pressing national issues.

In an odd twist, the Nebraska senator called a news conference to say he would decide about his political future later this year, saying a late entry into the 2008 race is still possible.

"I want to keep my focus on helping find a responsible way out of this tragedy," Hagel said of the Iraq war.

The Republican presidential field is crowded with 10 candidates, a number that could grow as Newt Gingrich and Fred Thompson weigh possible bids. Hagel's planned announcement touched off speculation that he would join the 2008 White House race or announce plans to seek re-election to a third Senate term.

Instead, he told reporters at a nationally televised news conference: "I am here today to announce that my family and I will make a decision on my political future later this year."

Hagel, 60, is probably best known to voters as a high-profile critic of the Bush administration dating to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That criticism evolved into heated discordance in January when the Nebraska Republican called President Bush's plan to send an addition 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder carried out since Vietnam."

Citing the war, Social Security, trade and climate change among other issues, Hagel said, "I believe it is in the interest of my Nebraska constituents and this country that I continue to work full time on these challenges."

Hagel spoke at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, his alma mater.

The senator is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who made millions in the cellular phone business.

Hagel is a conservative who opposes abortion rights and favors a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He has sometimes broken with the GOP leadership on foreign policy. In 2002, he voted for the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, but has since said he regrets the vote and was the only Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to repudiate Bush's troop increase.

Several prominent Republicans have already declared their intention to run for president and have taken the necessary steps such as hiring staff and raising millions for a White House bid. Among them former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.


© 2007 The Associated Press

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