Former Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, has endorsed Democrat Bob Kerrey in this year’s Senate race. But Hagel’s former Republican allies said the move would not hurt Republican candidate Deb Fischer.
Hagel announced his endorsement of Kerrey at news conferences in Omaha and Lincoln. Speaking in the State Capitol Rotunda, Hagel explained his reasoning.
“I hope Nebraskans will send Bob Kerrey back to the U.S. Senate to resume the work he so tirelessly and effectively did for Nebraska for 12 years. We must put an end to this senseless and irresponsible partisan paralysis that has locked down our government and our politics,” Hagel said.
“We must start working together again for the good of our country – not the parties. It’s okay -- be a Republican be a Democrat be an independent. But put the country first. Bring consensus to solving problems. That’s leadership. Bob Kerrey knows how to do that. He’s done that. He can do it as well as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Hagel added.
Republican leaders supporting Deb Fischer sought to minimize the impact of Hagel’s endorsement.
Sen. Mike Johanns, who successfully ran for the Senate when Hagel announced his retirement in 2008, said Hagel had alienated a lot of people by that time. “There was no doubt about it – he burned a lot of bridges here. There was a lot of anger when I was out on the campaign trail toward Chuck,” Johanns said. “And it wasn’t just his positions on the war and President Bush. It was a feeling that he had moved away from the state. That his interest was more at the international level than it was Nebraska.”
Gov. Dave Heineman also said Hagel’s endorsement would have no impact. He compared Fischer’s support from himself and the four Republicans in Nebraska’s congressional delegation to a bipartisan list of current and former senators who have endorsed Kerrey. “He’s got Alan Simpson of Wyoming’s vote. He can’t vote in Nebraska. Rudman of New Hampshire. He can’t vote here. Harry Reid of Nevada. He’s going to try, but it won’t work,” Heineman quipped. “And Chuck Hagel – hasn’t been registered to vote in Nebraska for the last couple of years. So here it is: We’ve got five votes for Fischer, Kerrey’s got zero.”
Fischer herself has received plenty of out-of-state endorsements from prominent Republicans, including those of Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Arizona Sen. John McCain will campaign for Fischer in Omaha Friday.
Reacting to Heineman and Johanns’ criticism, Kerrey referred to the fact that Hagel had endorsed both of them when they were underdogs in Republican gubernatorial primaries, Johanns against Jon Christensen and John Breslow in 1998, Heineman against Tom Osborne in 2006. “I do hope that Sen. Hagel’s endorsement has as positive an impact on me as it did Mike Johanns and Gov. Heineman when they were running for office,” Kerrey said.
Hagel bristled at Johanns questioning his Republican credentials. “Comments like what Mr. Johanns said is what’s wrong with our party system today. Who is Mike Johanns to judge me?” on being a Republican, Hagel said, declaring that he is just as much a Republican as Johanns. “On whose standard is he judging me? That’s the problem with the Republican Party today. That has to stop. We’ll get it back,” Hagel said.
Johanns also suggested Hagel was endorsing a Democrat because he’s angling for a cabinet appointment if President Barack Obama is re-elected. “Chuck has been very clear about the fact that he would love to be in the Obama Administration. I think Chuck would love to think that he was on the list to be secretary of something,” Johanns said.
Fischer sounded a similar theme. “I thank Sen. Hagel for his service to our country. He served in the military. He served as a United States Senator and I think him for his service,” she said. “But he has also been working with the Obama Administration so I’m really not surprised by his endorsement of Mr. Kerrey.”
Hagel said he’s been offered what he termed “pretty senior-level jobs” by the President, although he declined to say if theey were cabinet positions. But he said he turned them down. Hagele is a member of administration advisory boards on intelligence, defense, and sending exchange students to China.
Kerrey said he didn’t know exactly what impact Hagel’s endorsement would have, but he said it would help in what he said was a very close race.