Senator Johanns: A Mind Reader who Knows Chuck Hagel’s REAL Reason for Endorsing Bob Kerrey

November 1, 2012


OP: Chuck Hagel’s Kerrey endorsement won’t affect election
By Robynn Tysver

Is it a game changer?

It depends on who is talking, but clearly the decision by former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to endorse Bob Kerrey is a coup for the Democrat.

Hagel was expected to cross party lines today and back Kerrey in his U.S. Senate race against Republican State Sen. Deb Fischer.

Hagel and Kerrey served together in the Senate. Perhaps more important, both are Vietnam War veterans who developed a strong friendship.

Hagel was expected to make the announcement in Omaha, according to a spokesman for the Kerrey campaign.

The endorsement comes as polls show Kerrey drawing closer to Fischer — the front-runner throughout the campaign.

Chuck Hagel

Republicans quickly downplayed the value of the endorsement, noting that Hagel hasn’t lived in Nebraska since he left the Senate in 2009. (Hagel now lives in Virginia and teaches at Georgetown University.)

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns — both Republicans and both Fischer supporters — argued Thursday that Hagel had literally and politically left Nebraska. Johanns also accused Hagel of angling for a job in the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama.

“I think Chuck would love to think he’s on the list to be secretary of something,” Johanns said at a morning press conference where the state’s top Republicans rallied around Fischer.

Other Republicans noted that when Hagel left the Senate, he was facing fierce opposition for his frequent criticism of Republican President George W. Bush and his handling of the Iraq War.

“There was no doubt about it, he burned a lot of bridges here,” Johanns said. “There was a lot of anger when I was out on the campaign trail toward Chuck, 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. His interest was more on the international level than it was in Nebraska.”

There have been rumblings over the years that Hagel was interested in landing a prominent spot in the Obama administration. Since 2009, Hagel has served as co-chairman of Obama’s Presidential Intelligence Advisory Board, a nonpartisan body that provides the president unfiltered advice on the effectiveness of the nation’s intelligence operations.

Meanwhile, another prominent Vietnam veteran has thrown his support behind Fischer. U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, endorsed Fischer earlier this year and is headed to Nebraska on Friday to stump for her.

McCain was to be the featured guest at a 9:30 a.m. rally at the Werner Enterprises Hangar in Omaha, 3619 Doolittle Plaza at Eppley Airfield.

In an interesting political twist, McCain is friends with both Hagel and Kerrey. All three served in the Senate together and all three have been called political mavericks at points in their careers.

Democrats touted Hagel’s endorsement as a huge development.

Vince Powers, incoming chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party, said Hagel would go a long way in helping Kerrey win independent voters and persuading Republicans to support a Democrat.

“It’s a remarkable endorsement because it shows — even before he’s elected — he’s able to bring people on both sides together. He’s going to walk into the U.S. Senate, and he’s going to automatically be a leader of the Senate,” Powers said.

Exactly how much political juice Hagel can deliver for Kerrey is unknown. Hagel fell out of favor with many in his party. It is hard to gauge exactly what impact the endorsement will have among Republicans and independents.

Hagel and Kerrey served in the Senate together for four years, after Hagel was elected in 1996. Kerrey left in 2001. Both had been wounded in combat, and they often used their wartime experiences to work together on such issues as banning land mines.

After Kerrey announced his retirement, Hagel organized Kerrey’s farewell tribute. A dozen senators showed up, but Kerrey asked that only four take the podium.

One of them was Hagel, who said he counted Kerrey as a good friend and “all-around good guy.”

Aside from their common backgrounds as Nebraskans and veterans, they bonded over their penchant for exasperating their respective parties, either with their votes or words.

For example, Hagel’s 2008 trip to the Middle East with then-Sen. Obama was viewed by many as a tacit endorsement of Obama’s presidential bid. Hagel followed that up by skewering Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin as unqualified.

World-Herald staff writers Joseph Morton and Joe Duggan contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1309,


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