Hagel, Warner Announcing Exits Soon?

The two common strengths of my guests at lunch July 3 were 1) they know Republican politics in their respective states well and 2) they concluded that the Republican senators from those states, Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and John Warner (Va.), will announce sooner rather than later that they will not seek re-election in ’08.

“[Hagel] is doing some stupid things lately,” one source told me, specifically citing Hagel’s flip comment that opponents of President Bush’s Iraq policy could consider impeaching him and, most recently, his voting for the comprehensive immigration bill favored by the White House. “Chuck Hagel was on the wrong side of that issue and [Nebraska’s Democratic Sen.] Ben Nelson was on the right side,” my source told me.

State Attorney General Jon Bruning has already signaled he is running for the Republican nomination regardless of what Hagel does. A day after my lunch, the July 4 Pancake Breakfast for Nebraska Republicans was held for the 29th year in a row in Omaha. An attendee at the breakfast told me that “the Bruning people were out in force. They must have had 25 people in T-shirts for Bruning and numerous others handing out stickers. And Bruning came and walked the parades. Hagel was there as well, but with no support except for his chief of staff, Lou Ann Linehan.”

The same person who was at the breakfast agreed with my luncheon guest: “My crystal ball says he doesn’t run and shakes up Nebraska politics.”

Nebraska’s Republican National Committeeman Hal Daub has also signaled he will make the Senate race. Daub is a former congressman, mayor of Omaha, and two-time Senate candidate.

Should Hagel step down and a vigorous Bruning-Daub primary follow, the GOP race could be joined by Tony Raimando, owner of the Behlen Industries of Columbus, Nebraska and close friend and ally of Ben Nelson. The most talked-of Democratic candidate is Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey

Carry Him Back to Ole Virginny

“Susan Magill quit as [Sen. John] Warner’s top aide and he has raised ‘zero’ dollars for ’08,” observed my luncheon guest, “If he’s running, I don’t see any evidence of it.”

After thirty years in the Senate — exceeding the tenures of past Old Dominion Sens. A. Willis Robertson, Carter Glass, and Harry Byrd, Sr. and Jr. — John Warner really has no reason to stay on. With odds favoring a Democratic majority next year, the chances of the 80-year-old senator regaining a key committee chairmanship are slim.

The worst-kept secret in the state is that Rep. Tom Davis of Northern Virginia will run if Warner calls it quits. The two are close (longtime Davis political operative John Hishta ran Warner’s re-election bid in ’96, the last time he was seriously challenged for renomination and in the general election) and sources close to both men expect Warner will give Davis a heads-up on his retirement announcement.

What Warner cannot do for Davis, however, is what he did for himself in 1996: determine the venue for the Republican nomination. Under very unique party rules, an incumbent GOP office-holder can call for a primary or convention as the means of nomination but, if there is no incumbent, it is up to the state committee of the party to say what the procedure is. When Warner ran eleven years ago, he called for a primary as a means of settling his challenge from former Reagan budget chief Jim Miller; with no party registration in Virginia, voters who consider themselves independents and Democrats could come out to support Warner, who had irked conservatives on numerous occasions. He won renomination by a margin of 2-to-1.

Should Warner step down next year, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the state committee, top-heavy with conservatives, will opt for the convention system. This does not bode well for Davis (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 70%), whose positions on abortion and the issues of federal employees have irked Republicans on the right.
(Other Davis-watchers note that the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee has been generous and vigorous in raising money for conservative candidates throughout Virginia from statehouse to courthouse and would have many supporting him who don’t agree with him on every issue.)

“I would love Jim Gilmore to get in the Senate race,” my Virginia guest told me, noting that the former Virginia governor and attorney general is now a dark horse Presidential candidate. “I wish he would go somewhere in this presidential race, but he isn’t. A Senate race would be ideal for him.” Gilmore, my Virginia guest believes, is the conservative most likely to emerge as the “anti-Davis” — although Reps. Eric Cantor and Bob Goodlatte also get mention for that niche.

Any Republican would have a difficult race against former Democratic Gov. (2001-05) Mark Warner, whom polls show to be the most popular politician in the Old Dominion. Although he passed on a presidential bid, Warner — who drew 46% of the vote against John Warner (no relation) in 1996 — could easily resurface in a race for an open Senate seat.