Hagel's retirement may make GOP task of taking back Senate even tougher.
WASHINGTON (CNN)- First John Warner. Now Chuck Hagel. Two moves by two Republican Senators that they’re going to retire after next year rather than run for re-election makes the GOP’s tough task of trying to take back the Senate in the 2008 election even tougher.
A source close to Hagel told CNN Saturday that the Republican Senator from Nebraska will leave the Senate when his term ends in January 2009. Hagel, who is a vocal critic of the Bush Administration on the Iraq War, will make his future plans official when he holds a news conference in Omaha Monday.
Nebraska’s a red state. President Bush handily won re-election there in 2004. But an unpopular war and an unpopular President could give the Democrats hope next year even in Nebraska. The state does have a Democratic Senator, Ben Nelson, and a former Senator and Democrat, Bob Kerrey, may be interested in running if Hagel makes it official Monday that he’s retiring.
National Republicans are hoping that former Nebraska Governor and current Bush Administration Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns will jump into the race. A Kerrey – Johanns race would be a bruiser. But Johanns may not have the Republican field to himself if he decides to run. Hagel’s criticism of the war prompted Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning to mount a primary challenge to Hagel, and there are no guarantees Bruning would step aside for Johanns.
In Virginia, the 80 year old Warner announced over a week ago that he won’t run for re-election. Democrats have won three major state wide elections in Virginia this decade, and if Former Governor Mark Warner, no relation to the Senator, decides put his hat into the ring, Democrats hope they can grab the seat away from the GOP.
“Virginia has been a reliable Republican state since the 1960’s with an occasional Democratic breakthrough. Now those breakthroughs are becoming more frequent,” says CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.
On the Republican side, there could be a bitter primary fight between Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate Republican from Northern Virginia, and former Governor Jim Gilmore, a conservative.
Democrats took control of the Senate in last year’s mid term elections, but they hold a razor thin 51 to 49 advantage.
But the numbers are working against the Republicans.
They’re defending 22 of the 34 seats up in next year’s election.
And besides the tough races ahead for them now in Nebraska and Virginia, a number of Republican Senators up for re-election next year will be fighting for their political lives. They include Susan Collins of Maine, John Sununu of New Hampshire, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and Gordon Smith of Oregon.
As of now only one Democrat up next year, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana appears to be facing a major fight.
And it’s not only the numbers that are stacking up against the Republicans.
"You've got an unpopular war, an unpopular president and an overwhelming desire for change and in a presidential year the incumbent president's party defines the status quo," says Schneider.
Also hurting the Republicans are scandals. It’s what the Democrats call the “culture of corruption.” If Larry Craig does in fact step down, is Idaho seat is safe to stay in Republican hands. But the controversy over his arrest in a Minneapolis airport restroom and subsequent guilty plea is not helping his party one bit.
- CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser