Monday, September 08, 2008

Nebraska U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Nebraska U.S. Senate

September 8, 2008
57 Days Until Election Day

Status: Open Republican
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Safe Republican

A race for that for several months looked like it would be among the most interesting in the country has for a while now looked much more like an afterthought on the national political radar.

This seat in the U.S. Senate is currently held by Chuck Hagel, who after being first elected in 1996, was seen as a fairly typical Midwestern conservative and a potential candidate on the national stage. He also was for many years one of the closest friends and allies in Washington of his colleague John McCain. Hagel has since turned on the GOP, Bush Administration, and his old friend McCain on foreign policy, particularly U.S. involvement in Iraq. For that stance, Hagel has become somewhat of a cult hero on the left.

Through 2006 and much of 2007, people were left guessing whether Hagel would seek reelection to his Senate seat in Nebraska, run instead for President, try to find a way to do both, at least for a while, or leave politics all together. There was also speculation as to whether he would seek elective office in 2008 as a Republican, an Independent, or even as a Democrat. A strong challenger emerged pledging to run against the incumbent in a Republican primary and many believed that Hagel would have the race of his life just to win renomination in Nebraska. The Senator kept people hanging on in Hamlet like fashion until ultimately deciding he would not seek any office this year. While Hagel has had kind words of late for both Barack Obama and Joe Biden, he apparently intends to keep to a pledge not to endorse any Presidential campaign.

So, with Hagel out of the picture, speculation turned to the prospects of Democrats potentially picking up a seat in a very red state. Many expected former U.S. Senator and former Governor Bob Kerrey to return from New York City and run for the seat as a Democrat. Others talked about the Mayor of Omaha, but both would eventually rule out making the race. The Democrat to step up to the plate is a rancher and college instructor named Scott Kleeb. The youthful looking candidate was defeated in a 2006 Congressional race, but had impressed many by running far stronger than Democrats would be expected to in Nebraska's most conservative district.

Shortly after Hagel left the race, the GOP field included several credible candidates, including the state's Attorney General, whose candidacy may have been responsible for Hagel packing it up. Ultimately though, the field would basically be cleared for the state's popular former Governor, Mike Johanns, who had resigned his position as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to make this race. Ironically enough, Johanns had been expected to run for the Senate two years earlier, and might have picked up a seat for Republicans, and thus held the majority for the party, before he was snatched away to serve in the Bush Administration Cabinet.

Bloggers at sites such as Daily Kos have tried to remain bullish about the political prospects of Kleeb, as a fresh face in the state, and potential baggage of Johanns ties to the President and angst that the farmers of the Cornhusker State might have felt about him leaving his post in the middle of the debate over the Agriculture bill. However, the fact of the matter is that in a Republican state such as Nebraska, Johanns was always going to be difficult to beat and the polls which show him ahead by about 25 points, and running at nearly 60 percent of the vote statewide certainly back that up.

Hagel may now hold the national Republican Party in contempt, and the feeling is probably mutual, but he has also attended at least one fundraiser for Johanns, which seems to indicate that the Republican has his support to succeed him. While the party labels may not officially change, on foreign policy issues at least, Johann's all but certain victory this November, will certainly feel like a GOP pickup.

Johanns campaign link:

2008 U.S. Senate races predicted: 8 D, 12 R
Predicted Senate balance of power thus far: 47 D, 38 R


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