Sen. Hagel bows out of politics, opens door to Johanns, Kerrey

Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelJuan Williams: Trump is AWOL on our troops Former Pentagon chief: Trump 'let down our country' by skipping WWI cemetery visit due to rain Trump’s bogus use of cyber threats to prop up coal MORE (R-Neb.) officially announced on Monday that he will not run for a third term in the Senate and doesn’t plan to run for president in 2008.

A conservative Vietnam veteran known for his maverick streak, Hagel most recently became the leading Senate GOP critic of the Iraq war.
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His impending retirement ratchets up the intensity of the battle for his Senate seat and leaves anti-war Republicans and independents without one of their top potential candidates in the presidential contest.

It also opens the door to a pair of high-profile potential Senate candidates who were unlikely to enter a race that included Hagel: Democratic former Sen. Bob Kerrey (Neb.) and Republican U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen JohannsMeet the Democratic sleeper candidate gunning for Senate in Nebraska Farmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World MORE.

Kerrey has been open about his deliberations and could make an announcement as early as next week, while Johanns is more of a wildcard.

Speaking at the Omaha Press Club, Hagel was definitive about his Senate plans and all but closed the book on a presidential bid.

“I will not seek a third term in the United States Senate, nor do I intend to be a candidate for any office in 2008,” he said. “I will leave the Senate with the same enthusiasm, sense of purpose and love of my country that I started with.”

Hagel said 12 years in the Senate was enough for him, but he also suggested he might not be done in the public sector.

“Public service has always been a big part of my life, and I hope to have another opportunity to serve my country in some new capacity down the road,” Hagel said.

While Hagel’s departure opens the door for Democrats to take his seat, it might hurt them in their quest to end the Iraq war. Since voting to oppose President Bush’s troop increase in February, Hagel has become a reliable vote for binding withdrawal plans.

After Republicans hung together to block Hagel’s and Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-Va.) proposal to guarantee rest periods between troop deployments, the Nebraskan took to the microphones alongside senior Democrats to blast Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidManchin’s likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives Water wars won’t be won on a battlefield Poll finds most Americans and most women don’t want Pelosi as Speaker MORE (D-Nev.) said he hopes “Republicans will emulate [Hagel’s] independence as we shape our Iraq policy in the coming months.”

Hagel’s retirement announcement comes just more than a week after that of Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), another critic of the White House’s war policy.

Hagel had also toyed with the idea of a presidential bid.

Some had speculated that he might join an independent presidential ticket, possibly with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently left the Republican Party.

At a March press conference in which he balked at his political future, Hagel suggested that he wanted to run for president but was concerned about the impact of such a campaign on his family.
Now that his mind is finally made up, announcements from Johanns and Kerrey will be eagerly awaited by their respective parties.
Johanns, a popular former governor, has been in talks with the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) but publicly has been mum about his plans. Republicans already have a number of candidates in the race, including state Attorney General Jon Bruning.

A knowledgeable Nebraska Republican source said that if Johanns is going to run, he will likely announce within the next week or two.

At an event in Washington, Johanns said he doesn’t anticipate making an announcement on his plans later this week, when he visits Nebraska for what he said was a long-planned trip.

“Today I won’t even comment on that,” Johanns said. “I don’t have anything to offer in that regard.”

Kerrey recently informed the board of trustees at The New School in New York City, where he serves as president, that he might pursue a Senate run.

He brought on former campaign manager Paul Johnson to handle press after Hagel’s announcement.

“[Kerrey] hasn’t made a final decision one way or another,” Johnson said. “I think that will be forthcoming here in the next couple of weeks or so. There’s not an absolute deadline, but he’s indicated to me and others that this isn’t something he’ll linger long on.”

For now, Bruning is staking claim to front-runner status, while former Rep. Hal Daub (Neb.) also looms as a potentially formidable candidate.

Daub, a former Omaha mayor who has been testing the waters, told The Hill that he would have “something specific” to announce on Tuesday. A close confidant of Hagel’s, he resigned his position as a Republican National Committeeman two weeks ago, clearing the way for a possible bid.

Bruning, a brash 38-year-old up-and-comer, released a poll in April showing himself beating Hagel in a head-to-head match-up.

Bruning has been in the race for months and expects to report more than $1 million raised by the end of the third quarter, campaign manager Jordan McGrain said.

In recent weeks, Bruning has apparently turned his attention toward a potential match-up with Johanns, issuing a scathing criticism when the Agriculture Department closed several Farm Service Agency offices in the state.

McGrain said it was “unfortunate that it was Mike Johanns’s name attached to that.”

Businessman Tony Raimondo and financial adviser Pat Flynn have also entered the Republican primary field. Former state Attorney General Don Stenberg (R), who lost narrowly, 51-49, to Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in 2000 and also ran for Senate in 1996 and 2006, is another potential candidate.

On the Democratic side, however, a serious primary appears unlikely, as the potential candidates have, in effect, put themselves in line.

Both Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey and 2006 congressional candidate Scott Kleeb will not run if Kerrey runs. Should Kerrey opt not to run, Kleeb will defer to Fahey.

Kleeb is also weighing a rematch with Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.).

Elana Schor and Ian Swanson contributed to this report.