Friday, April 20, 2007

Has Hagel Lost His Hold?

by Kyle Michaelis
Congressman Lee Terry Ready to "Get On Board" with an Actual Presidential Candidate

Sen. Chuck Hagel has been the dominant force in Nebraska Republican politics for the last decade. From recent headlines, though, one can only assume his Hamlet-like ruminations on his political future have resulted in an army of would-be Macbeths sick of waiting their turn in Hagel's shadow.

As Ryan notes below, Attorney General Jon Bruning has all but announced his intention to challenge Hagel if Hagel seeks re-election. That's quite the change from Bruning's March 15th press conference, when he not only vowed that he would not run against Hagel in the primary but also declared "I'm a Hagel guy" who wants "to be there right behind him" supporting Hagel's bid for the Presidency.

So, Bruning would support Hagel for President but not for re-election? Is that a flip? Or, is that a flop? Either way, it's a sign that Hagel is no longer the golden boy above reproach in Nebraska Republican politics - even though he's played a big role in every major Republican victory in the state since 1996 and gave up much credibility as an independent voice on the national stage with his flagrant partisanship supporting Pete Ricketts' money-flush but inherently flawed 2006 Senate campaign.

Just goes to show that you really are only as good as your last campaign - even when it wasn't your name on the ballot.

Honestly, though, the size of Bruning's ego has made him a poor fit for the Team Hagel crowd from the start. Far more telling in terms of Hagel's newfound weakness is the report in Thursday's Omaha World-Herald that Congressman Lee Terry doesn't seem to be waiting around for Hagel to make up his mind before finding a candidate to support for President:
If Sen. Chuck Hagel waits too long to decide on a presidential bid, he may find his fellow Nebraska Republicans on Capitol Hill have already signed up with another candidate.

The state's three U.S. House members attended a meeting Wednesday with former senator and potential presidential contender Fred Thompson, who was pitching his conservative philosophy to lawmakers.

Rep. Lee Terry of Omaha said he was impressed with Thompson's desire to return the GOP to its roots - pushing for limited government and fiscal responsibility.

Thompson is still in the "listening tour" phase and is not officially running, but that could change.

"I think I need to start finding a candidate to back," Terry said. "I have some level of enthusiasm about Fred Thompson, so if he came out tomorrow, I could see myself getting onboard with him."
It's interesting to note that the online edition also includes the following, which was not reported in print:
Terry said he gets the feeling Hagel will ultimately decide not to jump into the race.

"Some of the vibes that I'm (getting) are that Chuck is not going to run for president," Terry said.

"I can't answer for my colleagues, but the fact that they were there listening to Fred Thompson means that they might be feeling some of the same vibes and that it's time for us to start looking."
So, what exactly is going on here? Has Hagel's continued criticism of President Bush's Iraq policy so completely destroyed his relationship with the Republican base that his fellow GOP politicians don't really care about offending him? Does Terry know something we don't - that Hagel has ruled out a Presidential bid? That Hagel is angling for a rumored indepedent campaign for the Vice-Presidency with billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg? That Hagel is retiring? That Hagel is resigning himself to seeking re-election....much to Bruning's chagrin?

Hell, I don't know. I'm just a dude who asks questions. But, clearly Hagel is no longer the end-all-be-all in Nebraska Republican politics. Although he served as something of a king-maker for Dave Heineman and attempted to do the same for Pete Ricketts, his national ambitions have left an open flank at home that others are proving more than willing to exploit.

Should be an interesting couple of months ahead.

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Anonymous Dave Sund said...

I've come to the conclusion that Lee Terry's running for reelection, based on his campaign filings and who has been contributing money to him (donations from Bruning, Daub, and Ricketts?)

Terry's comments certainly don't surprise me. He said as much to me roughly two weeks ago when I asked him if he thought anything in the environment would actually change to make it easier for him in 2008. (At some point I have to tell you that story, it's a good one, but not one I like to put out on the internets.) The Democrats have candidates that will excite Democrats, he said, but I'm not sure about any of the Republicans. Maybe if Fred Thompson got in the race...


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