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Despite Presidential Flirtation, Hagel Assures NRSC He’ll Seek Re-election

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) has assured the National Republican Senatorial Committee that he intends to run for re-election next year — although that decision does not mean he has chosen to forgo a presidential bid, which he continues to seriously consider.

Sources familiar with Hagel’s thinking say the Senator has no desire to exit elective office in 2008, and they expect him to run for re-election to the Senate if his prospective bid for the Republican presidential nomination falls short. Because the presidential primary season is front-loaded with key January races, the Senator’s status in that contest probably would be determined by Nebraska’s Feb. 15 filing deadline for incumbents, leaving him sufficient time to transition to a Senate race.

“Sen. Hagel has told the NRSC that he plans to run for re-election,” said a Republican operative based in Washington, D.C. “But as with all Senators up for re-election, things can certainly change.”

Until the outcome of any bid for the White House becomes clear, Hagel could even run for Senate and president simultaneously. Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) did just that in 2000, when he was re-elected to the Senate even as he came within a whisker of being elected vice president.

Hagel’s Senate office declined on Monday to comment on his political future, other than to say the Senator would announce his plans in the next couple of weeks.

According to a Republican familiar with Hagel’s thinking, the Senator would not run for president as a fringe candidate, basing any decision to enter the contest on his ability, in particular, to impact the debate on Iraq specifically and foreign policy and national security generally.

Similarly, it’s that desire to influence foreign policy and national security strategy that is likely to keep Hagel from retiring from the Senate outright or adopting a run-for-president-or-bust approach to his political future.

“I think Sen. Hagel believes the country is at an important crossroads from an international and security standpoint,” said Republican strategist Doug McAuliffe, who has worked as Hagel’s media consultant. “I find it hard to believe, with the nation facing such a critical policy debate about its future, that Chuck Hagel would be sitting on the sidelines two years from now.”

Hagel has one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate, and he has voted with President Bush on legislation as much, or more, than many of his Republican colleagues.

But the Senator, a decorated Vietnam veteran, has been a virulent critic of Bush’s Iraq War policy, particularly in the weeks since the president unveiled his plan to send an additional 21,500 troops there.

The “surge,” as it is being called, is designed to pacify the sectarian violence that has plagued Baghdad and thwarted U.S. attempts to foster a functioning and stable democracy in Iraq. However, Hagel has called the war the biggest foreign policy blunder since the Vietnam War.

In national TV interviews this past weekend, Hagel did not completely rule out the possibility of running for president as an Independent, though most Republicans see that as highly unlikely.

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