Monday, August 20, 2007

Absurdities of 2008 Senate Race Explored in Detail

by Kyle Michaelis
Two of the more respected old-timers of the Nebraska press corps, the Lincoln Journal-Star's Don Walton and Nebraska State Paper's Ed Howard, each published separate accounts today updating readers on the outlook for next year's race for the Senate seat currently held by Chuck Hagel (whose recess activities are the topic of our latest poll).

Walton reports on Jon Bruning's attack dog tactics before taking a wider look at the campaign landscape:
Target: Johanns. The bulls-eye has moved. Here are a couple of paragraphs from a Jon Bruning news release issued last week: "Attorney General Jon Bruning criticized the recent decision by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns to close 10 Federal Farm Service agencies in Nebraska. 'These closings are not in the best interests of Nebraska,' Bruning said. `I intend to protect and defend our family farms as a member of the United States Senate.'  
As mounting circumstantial evidence points toward the likelihood Chuck Hagel will not seek re-election, the spotlight begins to turn toward Johanns. Bruning, who had been targeting Hagel for his views on Iraq and immigration, may see Johanns emerging now as the chief obstacle standing between him and the 2008 Republican Senate nomination.....  
Hagel has not announced whether he'll seek re-election. That decision presumably will come soon....Although he'll be in Nebraska for a number of events this month - including a visit to Husker football practice last Friday - Hagel has not scheduled his usual August congressional recess swing across the state. Meanwhile, Johanns isn't talking. But the wind is whispering yes....  
Bob Kerrey is interested - if Hagel doesn't seek re-election.... "Is Bob Kerrey heading back to Nebraska?" The New York Post asked in its featured Page Six column last week. "At the recent fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton..., several Dems, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, were urging Kerrey to run for the seat of Sen. Chuck Hagel...." the report stated. It's not the first time Kerrey and Schumer have talked.  
No matter how this all shakes out, Nebraska is going to be a nationally-prominent Senate battleground state in 2008.

For all intents and purposes, Walton should be absolutely right about this race making Nebraska a battleground state. But, national attention has remained relatively scant - probably under the assumption that this doesn't become a race until Hagel decides not to run for re-election. In that sense, the national press is waiting for Hagel to announce his intentions every bit as much as the other potential candidates - whom Howard examines in greater detail:
Bob Kerrey and Mike Fahey and Mike Johanns are politicians from Nebraska, but it only seems like they are endlessly waiting for Senator Chuck Hagel. The situation has become an overlong example of politics of the absurd.... Johanns has not said he will not run against Hagel. Johanns and Hagel are not pals. Never have been. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  There are very strong signs, subtle and not so subtle, that Johanns wants to run.  
There is no question that Johanns represents the strongest possible Senate candidate the GOP can offer. Attorney General Jon Bruning has declared for the Republican Senate nomination. He can't beat Johanns.  
Kerrey and Johanns were both popular governors. Kerrey is known for a touch of charisma. Johanns is not.... Several political watchers in Washington anticipate Hagel's retirement, but no one is certain, at this writing, what he will do....  
[N]o one can ever be certain of what Kerrey will do. In addition, Kerrey has a reputation for sometimes changing his mind, even after he says he has decided what he will do.
Seems a rather bold statement to declare that Bruning "can't beat Johanns" in a Republican primary. Howard may be right, but I think he might be over-estimating voters' affinity for Johanns - who definitely carries some baggage from his days as Governor and his involvement with the Bush Administration that would provide some easy fodder for Bruning if he's truly willing to keep those guns-a-blazing. Also, in contrast to Kerrey's legendary charisma, Bruning has a lot more personality than Johanns - even if it is the fake charm of an overgrown frat boy who seems to be permanently running for student body President.

So far, much of the speculation around this race has relied upon some expectation of coordination between Hagel and Johanns - which Howard goes out of his way to refute. Regardless, the unspoken idea driving this whole hypothetical is that Johanns (and his blandness) could reunite Nebraska Republicans - both those who've been offended by Hagel's criticism of President Bush and those who've been offended by Bruning's criticism of Hagel - and see them to an easy victory.

Sounds like a perfect little plan, doesn't it? But, politics rarely play out in these sorts of paint-by-the-number schemes - especially with wild cards like Hagel and Kerrey in the deck. That first card should be played soon, though....stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed for as much chaos and ridiculousness as possible.

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