Hagel low on cash on hand, raising retirement issue

Sen. Chuck Hagel’s (R-Neb.) year-end financial filing shows that he raised just $80,000 for his campaign committee in the final three months of 2006, bringing his cash on hand to $140,000 from $110,000.

As of his third-quarter filing, Hagel had the least cash on hand of the 33 senators up for reelection in 2008. The potential presidential candidate’s most recent filing shows he increased his campaign fundraising over the $20,000 he raised in the third quarter.

Political observers often use fundraising and cash-on-hand figures to speculate about whether members of Congress intend to seek reelection. The senator with the second-least cash after the third quarter, Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), is thus far the only one to announce he will not run again.

Unlike Allard, who was one of Democrats’ top three targets, Hagel appears unlikely to face a serious Senate challenge in 2008. He defeated now-Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) with 56 percent of the vote in 1996 and cruised to reelection in 2002 with 83 percent against token Democratic opposition.

At the same time, he has left open the possibility that he would retire, whether or not he would seek the presidency. Last week, he rebuffed a report that said he has assured the National Republican Senatorial Committee that he will seek reelection.

Spokesman Mike Buttry said Hagel’s campaign financial filings offer no clue about his future plans and emphasized Hagel’s fundraising through his political action committee, which raised more than $400,000 during the last cycle.

“I wouldn’t read anything into that,” Buttry said. “Sen. Hagel’s focus last year was on raising and contributing money from his PAC.”

Hagel recently has drawn attention for his harsh evaluation of the progress being made in Iraq. He is one of two Republican senators to sign on to a non-binding Democratic resolution criticizing President Bush’s plan to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.