Hagel Is Expected to Quit Electoral Politics

By Jonathan Weisman and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 9, 2007

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a mainstream conservative who raised his profile nationally through his fierce opposition to President Bush's Iraq policies, will announce tomorrow that he will retire from the Senate and will not run for president, sources close to the senator said yesterday.

Hagel, who will make the announcement in Omaha, was once considered a 2008 contender for the presidency. When he turned sharply against the war, his standing with Republican primary voters plummeted, but his stature with independents soared. Some political advisers suggested that he team with New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) on an independent "unity" presidential ticket.

But Hagel has decided instead to drop out of elective politics, at least for 2008, according to an informed source with direct knowledge of the senator's intentions. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to preempt Hagel's announcement.

Hagel, 60, would become the third Republican senator to announce his retirement, following Sens. John W. Warner (Va.) and Wayne Allard (Colo.). His decision only expands the headaches for Republicans as they attempt to regain control of the Senate in next year's elections.

Republicans will be defending 22 Senate seats to the Democrats' 12, and now three of those GOP seats will be open. Another, in Wyoming, will be defended by an unelected appointee, and that will be the case in Idaho as well, if Sen. Larry E. Craig resigns as expected at the end of September.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is also strongly beating its Republican counterpart in the fundraising race.

In most election years, Nebraska would be considered safely Republican. But discontent with the Iraq war and President Bush has emboldened Democrats even in deeply red territory. Hagel's retirement should spark a decision in short order from former senator Bob Kerrey (D) of Nebraska, who has acknowledged an interest in returning to the Senate.

Kerrey said in an e-mail Friday that he will wait a "respectful time" after Hagel's announcement to make his own plans clear. Kerrey added: "I do not know what he is going to say and do not intend to comment on my plans before spending time reflecting on his service."

Republicans are counting on former governor Mike Johanns to be their standard-bearer. Johanns, now Bush's agriculture secretary, remains popular in the Cornhusker State, and a Johanns-Kerrey race would be a clash of titans.

However, it is not clear whether Johanns would have the Republican field to himself. Hagel's outspoken criticism of the Iraq war prompted state Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) to mount a primary challenge from the right, and Bruning may not want to step aside.

Hagel and Warner, liberated from reelection campaign demands, are free to redouble their efforts to push for a change in course in Iraq.

But Hagel's forceful presence as a war critic has diminished significantly in recent months, and the Vietnam War veteran appears weary of the issue. It was in part his recent near-invisibility that raised expectations that he would retire.

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