Chuck Hagel: Cashing-In on "Character and Courage"by Kyle Michaelis
Now, Hagel's long-standing grudge against Sen. Ben Nelson is well known in political circles, and this explains some of why Hagel continues to target Nelson for defeat. There was a general sense in the GOP primary that Hagel favored Ricketts because of the damage he imagined all those millions of dollars could inflict on Nelson. Ricketts also stood most in the Hagel mold, whereby Hagel's '96 campaign as a wealthy Republican making his first bid for public office was expected to serve as a successful model.
Hagel has remained one of Ricketts most (or, perhaps, "only") steadfast supporters - breaking the tradition of home state Senators not actively campaigning against one another despite the national Republican Party's making clear their complete lack of faith in Ricketts' candidacy.
That Hagel continues to tout Ricketts really shouldn't be such a surprise - they hitched their teams together long ago, and there's no question that Ricketts' weakness is a reflection on Hagel's own. With his presidential prospects dimming, Hagel had banked on earning credibility and overcoming Republicans suspicions about his loyalty by flexing his muscles in Nebraska and willing the Republicans one more seat to counteract their expected losses across the country. As that possibility seems less and less likely, Hagel's fight now becomes one of simply avoiding complete embarrassment.
Hagel can't just cut his losses with Ricketts. This is his baby. Acknowledging that, fueled by delusions of grandeur and resentment at the polls consistently showing Nelson's higher approval rating - even with Republican voters - Hagel lends what weight he has to Ricketts because he has no other choice.
Oh, but don't feel bad for Hagel's digging himself into such a hole. There's upside here for him even if it comes at the expense of Pete Ricketts (literally). In fact, while Ricketts' checkbook is open and millions of dollars from the Ricketts family's multi-billion dollar fortune are being desperately bandied about, one can't really blame Hagel for cashing-in in his own little way.
Seriously, watch Hagel's supposed endorsement of Ricketts. The ad isn't even about Ricketts. It's about Chuck Hagel. On the surface, Hagel says the unseen Ricketts has "character and courage" and voters are expected to take his word for it though they've seen neither from Ricketts throughout the campaign. Voters were never going to fall for that.
Hagel, however, stands to benefit because his talking about "character and courage" - on Pete Ricketts' dime - serves as a nifty reminder of his well-cultivated persona. Sure, it might be baseless and absurd to claim Ricketts has these qualities, but Hagel's talking about them reinforces the idea that he has them himself.
If anything, this ad seems to suggest that Hagel is keeping his options open for 2008. Chiefly, if this whole presidential campaign doesn't work out, Hagel wants to at least have the option of falling back on his Senate seat with no one pulling the chair out from under him. With many Nebraska Republicans resentful of Hagel's Sunday morning criticism of President Bush and the occupation of Iraq, it can't hurt for Hagel to play the loyal footsoldier for the folks back home in an effort to boost his standing.
While Nebraska's upstart Attorney General Jon Bruning is running a campaign ad in a race without opposition to position himself for higher office - perhaps Hagel's office - this is also a nice slap-down, reminding Bruning to wait his turn.
A politician who would pass up the opportunity of free advertising wouldn't be much of a politician. Like strategists and pollsters all over the place, Hagel's just getting what he can from Ricketts while the getting is good.
Yup, that "character and courage" sure does come in handy. And, who knew it paid so well?