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Hagel Continues Flirtation With Independent Bid

For The Fix, watching Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-Neb.) political hand-wringing is like looking at the sun -- you know it's bad for you but you just can't resist.

Sen. Chuck Hagel
Hagel drops more hints about his political future during an appearance Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation" (AP photo)

During a remarkably politics-free weekend in Alabama, this blogger happened to tune into "Face the Nation," which featured the Republican senator from Nebraska.

If Hagel had left the door to an independent presidential bid open a crack in recent weeks, he tore it wide open yesterday.

At times Hagel sounded like he was simultaneously prepping for an independent bid and explaining why he was leaving the Republican Party.

Take this passage: "I've been a Republican all my life ... I am not happy with the Republican Party today. It has drifted from the party of Eisenhower, of Goldwater, of Reagan, the party I joined. It isn't the same party. It's not."

He didn't stop there. Hagel went on to say that the GOP has been "hijacked by a group of single-minded, almost isolationist insulationists, power-projectors ..."

Hagel was far more positive when asked about running as an independent. He called such a bid "good for the system" and said the 2008 election will be decided on demonstrated competence and leadership. "I don't think ideology is going to play a big role in that," Hagel said.

He even contemplated the possibility of joining a ticket with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is also refusing to rule out a 2008 third-party run. Hagel, who recently dined with Bloomberg, said the mayor is "the kind of individual who should think seriously about this." He added, "It's a great country to think about -- a New York boy and a Nebraska boy to be teamed up leading this country."

As regular Fix readers know, we believe Hagel's best chance to make noise in the presidential race is as an independent. He would face huge fundraising and organizational hurdles if he ran in the Republican primary, not to mention the fact that most Republican primary voters aren't likely to warm up to Hagel given his opposition to the war in Iraq.

Hagel appears to be positioning himself to do just that in a campaign that would focus heavily on breaking down partisan barriers to find a solution to the war. "War should never be framed up as a partisan issue," Hagel said on CBS. "It should never, ever be held captive to a political wedge issue."

When should we expect to hear the official pronouncement from Hagel on his political future? Well, Hagel is known for his unpredictability, but he said yesterday that an announcement would come by "late summer" -- sooner than the timetable he mentioned earlier this year when he said he'd make a final decision by the fall.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 14, 2007; 2:45 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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