Hagel, Prince of Denmarkby Ryan Anderson
Of course, prognosticators now say this is all a ploy to ward off a primary challenger, or that he's really committed to a presidential run and just hoping to get some mileage as a "fresh face" come Labor Day.
What this proves to me is we can't afford to be spectators any more. The Nebraska blogosphere has served as a vigilant watchdog of Chuck Hagel's record. That's all fine and dandy, but there comes a day when every public official must answer those critics and defend that record and for Senator Hagel, that day is Election Day, 2008. If we aren't committed to making that a contest, we can't pretend to be serious about building a "new Nebraska".
Building a new Nebraska, of course, will require a renewed two party system and the return of a true political dialogue. Neither of these goals are advanced by allowing the dean of the Nebraska Republican Party to be re-elected by acclamation. How would a campaign against Hagel work? Easy, just read the blogs:
1. It's not (all) about the War
There's little way Democrats in this state can win on the war: they can't run to Hagel's right without losing their base, they can't run to his left without losing the state. Given that every discussion involving Hagel has revolved around Iraq for at least the last two years, this has led some observers to declare Hagel invincible. In fact, it may be his greatest weakness.
Hagel can scarcely gain ground by making Iraq the central focus of his re-election. He has already isolated many of his conservative supporters, many of whom say they will never vote for him again. On the other hand, his decision to "embarrass Democrats" at the expense of an honest debate over Bush's Iraq policy should cost him whatever credibility he has on the left.
It may be possible to bridge some of the divide between Hagel's critics on the left and the right. Many Republicans seem to believe that Hagel is only attacking his president and his party to get face time on Sunday morning talk shows. Many liberals, frustrated that his passionate rhetoric doesn't match his actions on the Senate floor, feel much the same way. This may provide an opening for a candidate who aggressively campaigns on those issues which have been forgotten under the long shadow of the war.
2. Bread and Butter
Chuck Hagel has been one of the Bush Administration's most active and loyal allies: voting to drastically cut Medicaid, block PAYGO legislation, and slash federal subsidies for student loans. Not only has he voted to block a raise in the minimum wage, he's voted to abolish it altogether. This is a potentially powerful wedge issue, especially considering how effectively Ben Nelson campaigned against "Wall Street Pete".
3. Be Proactive
A high profile statewide race offers a platform to advance new ideas and promote a new vision. By leaving so many races uncontested, we've allowed the Republican Party to dominate and determine the course of political debate. A Democratic Senate candidate could change this by taking the lead in calling for federally aided rural broadband (working side by side with progressive efforts on the state level), or suggesting Congressional intervention to save Initiative 300. Seizing this opportunity to introduce Nebraskans to a true political dialogue would benefit our party in the future, even if this campaign is a bust.
Look, we ran an inexperienced, first-time candidate in the most hopeless race of 2006 and we are a stronger party for it. What good have we done by conceeding race after race after race to the Republican Party? Has it made us any stronger? Given us a bigger bench? More volunteers? Or just more of the same?
Nebraska deserves better than that. Nebraska deserves better than one party control. Nebraska deserves better than Chuck Hagel.