Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chuck Hagel Likes Democrats' Chances of Reclaiming His Senate Seat

by Kyle Michaelis
I suppose the following could be posturing on Sen. Chuck Hagel's part just to discourage complacence by Nebraska Republicans. On the other hand, this might be Hagel's way of emphasizing his legacy as the only Republican to have won a U.S. Senate race in Nebraska in the last 30 years. Regardless of his intent, this Hagel statement to the Lincoln Journal-Star should prove interesting to anyone forecasting the 2008 election:

"I am confident I could have won re-election," Hagel said.

Nebraska's GOP faces a challenge in retaining an open seat, he said.

"I don't know how anyone can say it's a safe Republican seat," Hagel said, in view of recent Nebraska political history. Democrats have won nine of the past 11 Senate races here.
Could Hagel have survived the primary challenge by Attorney General Jon Bruning? I'm on record thinking so but - at the same time - have no particular insight into the strange thought processes of your typical Republican primary voter.

Looking to the open field that now exists for the 2008 general election, though, Hagel is absolutely right in declaring that Nebraska's should not be considered a "safe Republican seat." On the other hand, I must again caution against the continued embellishment and exaggeration of Democrats' chances in this race should Bob Kerrey run. Kerrey's entry undoubtedly makes this a top-flight race, but his odds can't honestly be said to be any better than 50 - 50 if former Governor and current Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns gets the nomination. I could see Kerrey having a slight advantage over any other potential Republican nominees, but there's no way this race is a cake walk.

What troubles me most about these out-sized expectations is the effect they'll have should Kerrey opt-out of the race. Suddenly, Nebraska becomes a lost opportunity rather than the battleground it could and should be in 2008. Sure, without Kerrey, the race could rightfully be said to "lean Republican," but it can't be considered a safe bet for the GOP by any stretch of the imagination.

No doubt about it - Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey has the potential to beat any candidate the Republicans could put up, including Johanns. That isn't saying it would be easy...or likely....but it's well beyond plausible and should be kept in mind as the next wave of candidates declare and this exciting campaign develops.

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