Republican Senator Chuck Hagel Says He's Leaving Congress

Monday, September 10th 2007, 10:48 am
By: News On 6

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a thorn in his own party's side when it comes to Iraq, announced Monday he would retire from the Senate and not seek any elected office in 2008.

``I said after I was elected in 1996 that 12 years in the Senate would probably be enough, and it is,'' Hagel said.

His exit means one more seat the minority Republicans will be forced to defend, and both parties are expected to bring in heavy hitters to vie for the spot. The contenders could include Democrat Bob Kerrey, a former U.S. Senator and governor, and Republican Mike Johanns, the U.S. agriculture secretary and another former governor.

Potential candidates have said they'll talk about their plans after Hagel makes his decision official.

In March, many people had expected Hagel to announce he was running for president. Rumors also flew earlier this summer that Hagel might leave the GOP to join New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on an independent presidential ticket. Hagel shot that down in July when he said he had no plans to leave the Republicans.

Hagel, a Vietnam veteran who ran an investment banking firm before running for Congress, has become known for his criticism of the Bush administration since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In January, he called the president's plan to send an addition 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq ``the most dangerous foreign policy blunder carried out since Vietnam.''

Hagel's decision is the latest setback for the minority Senate Republicans. Sen. John Warner of Virginia and Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard also intend to retire, and incumbents in New Hampshire, Oregon, Minnesota and Maine face particularly competitive races.

In addition, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens faces a federal corruption investigation, and Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is struggling after his arrest in an airport men's room sex sting.

The GOP has a good chance to retain Hagel's seat in Nebraska because the state is heavily Republican and the list of possible candidates includes several heavy hitters. Kerrey could be tough to beat, but Johanns and State Attorney General Jon Bruning, who has already announced his plans to run, would be both strong contenders.