By Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, one of the most vocal Republican critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, announced his retirement yesterday -- bringing to three the number of GOP incumbents set to leave the Senate in 2008.
"I said after I was elected in 1996 that 12 years in the Senate would probably be enough," Hagel said. "It is."
Because the news of his decision leaked in the news media on Saturday, the race to replace him has already begun in earnest.
Former senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) will travel to Washington today to meet with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) to discuss the race. Kerrey, who represented Nebraska in the Senate from 1989 to 2001, has said he is considering a return to elected office after spending the past six years as president of the New School in New York City.
Paul Johnson, who managed both of Kerrey's Senate bids, described his former boss as "very serious" about a bid. "He has been thinking about it and talking about it for a while," Johnson said.
For Republicans, there is the possibility of a primary between state Attorney General Jon Bruning and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, a former Nebraska governor.
Johanns has been mum about his own interests in a Senate race, although Republican sources familiar with his thinking suggest a bid is more likely than not. Johanns appeared set to challenge Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in the 2006 election cycle but was named to his current post by President Bush in January 2005. Before that selection, Johanns had won two terms as governor and spent most of the 1990s as mayor of Lincoln.
Bruning has been running for months, assuming that Hagel would either retire or be unable to win a Republican primary because of his criticism of the administration on Iraq.
Jordan McGrain, campaign manager for Bruning, said that his candidate had no plans to withdraw from the contest regardless of whether Johanns runs. "He was prepared to run against a two-term incumbent United States senator -- I think he's proven that he's not afraid of a challenge," McGrain said. "Jon Bruning is in this race to win and will take on all comers, including Mike Johanns."
McGrain added that Bruning will have raised more than $1 million by the close of September and would show roughly $875,000 in the bank.
Hagel joins Sens. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) on the sidelines. Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) is expected to resign Sept. 30. Those departures have further complicated an already difficult political landscape for Republicans; 22 GOP seats are up for reelection in 2008, compared with 12 for Democrats.