WASHINGTON -- Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, an outspoken Republican critic of the war in Iraq who this year flirted with running for president, has decided not to seek re-election, congressional sources say.
Hagel informed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of his decision on Friday, according to one aide, telling McConnell that at 60 he still felt young enough to pursue other opportunities. The Nebraska senator has scheduled a news conference in Omaha tomorrow morning to announce that he will not seek either the presidency or re-election to the Senate in 2008.
Hagel is the third Senate Republican to announce his retirement since the party lost control of both houses of Congress last year, underscoring the difficulty of being in the minority party.
With Democrats holding a fragile 51-49 majority in the Senate, the retirements have helped put the GOP on the defensive as it seeks to regain control of the Senate in 2008. Twenty-two of the 34 Senate seats up for election next year are held by Republicans.
"What we're seeing is that some important senators are deciding not to run," said Robert Schmuhl, professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame and director of its John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy. "This potentially changes the political landscape, and not to the Republicans' benefit."
Bob Kerrey, a former governor and U.S. senator from Nebraska who runs the New School University in New York, has mused publicly about running for the seat if Hagel did not.
Kerrey told The Lincoln Journal Star he will disclose more about his plans tomorrow. Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey also has expressed interest.
On the Republican side, Hagel had drawn a serious primary opponent in Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, a former governor of Nebraska and mayor of Lincoln, also is said to be interested.
Joe Mathews writes for the Los Angeles Times.