Sen. Hagel Leaving Congress After '08

The Associated Press
Monday, September 10, 2007; 7:38 PM

OMAHA, Neb. -- Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a thorn in his own party's side when it comes to Iraq, announced Monday that he would retire from the Senate and not seek any elected office in 2008.

"I said after I was elected in 1996 that 12 years in the Senate would probably be enough, and it is," Hagel said.

His exit means one more seat the minority Republicans will be forced to defend, and both parties are expected to bring in heavy hitters to vie for the spot. The contenders could include Democrat Bob Kerrey, a former U.S. senator and governor, and Republican Mike Johanns, the U.S. agriculture secretary and another former governor. Republican state Attorney General Jon Bruning has already announced his plans to run.

Kerrey has talked to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada about a possible run, and plans to meet Tuesday with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who leads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Paul Johnson, who managed both of Kerrey's Senate campaigns.

"He's taking it very seriously," Johnson said. "It's not just a passing fancy."

Johanns said Monday he's not ready to speculate about his future.

In March, many people had expected Hagel to announce he was running for president. Rumors also flew that he might leave the GOP to join New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on an independent presidential ticket. Hagel shot that down in July when he said he had no plans to leave the Republicans.

Hagel, a Vietnam veteran who ran an investment banking firm before running for Congress, has become known for his criticism of the Bush administration since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In January, he called the president's plan to send an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder carried out since Vietnam."

He promised he would remain engaged in the war debate.

"As we all know, we will elect a new president in 14 months," Hagel said. "That next administration will have to deal with these big issues. I will stay right in the middle of this effort."

Hagel's Senate colleagues from both parties praised his service Monday.

"Chuck Hagel is one of the few genuine foreign policy experts in the Senate and an independent, serious voice on many of the most challenging issues we face," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Schumer also praised Hagel, saying: "He has done a superb job for his state and his country, and we will miss him."

The GOP has a good chance to retain Hagel's seat in this heavily Republican state, but his decision is still among several setbacks for minority Senate Republicans.

Sen. John Warner of Virginia and Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard also intend to retire, and incumbents in New Hampshire, Oregon, Minnesota and Maine face particularly competitive races.

In addition, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens faces a federal corruption investigation, and Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is struggling after his arrest in an airport men's room sex sting.


Associated Press writers Josh Funk in Omaha, Neb., and Nate Jenkins in Lincoln, Neb., contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Associated Press