Bruning mulls Hagel primary challenge in ’08

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) entered the state’s 2008 Senate race as a potential replacement for Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) if the latter were to retire. But now Bruning says he might try to unseat the Iraq war critic in a primary.

He cited Hagel’s recent vote for a troop withdrawal deadline in Iraq and his suggestions that President Bush could be impeached. Bruning said yesterday that he has been given sufficient reason to consider running for the seat even if the two-term senator aims for a third term.

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“Senator Hagel voted with the Democratic leadership against President Bush on the most important issue facing our country,” Bruning said, adding, “These are drastic and dramatic shifts away from the Republican Party, our president, and the people of Nebraska.”

Hagel has been mum about his future, but he has suggested that he might run for president and that he might not run for reelection to the Senate regardless of his presidential plans.

In an ambitious move last month, Bruning formed an exploratory committee with the express purpose of laying the groundwork in case Hagel retires.

“Senator Hagel is an outstanding, well-respected public servant and I will not run against him in the primary,” Bruning said at the time, as reported by the Omaha World-Herald.

In the preceding days, Hagel called a press conference to announce that he was not yet ready to make a decision about his political future.

Hagel’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Former Rep. Hal Daub (R) has indicated he might run if Hagel retires, as has the leading potential Democratic candidate, Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey.

Hagel figures to be a tough incumbent to beat no matter which party is challenging him; in 2002, he was reelected with 83 percent of the vote. But he has one of the smallest campaign war chests among senators up in 2008, with about $230,000.