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Chuck Hagel and the "me for me" endorsement

Former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) will endorse Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak (D) tomorrow in Pennsylvania. AP Photo by Charles Dharapak

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) will throw his support behind Rep. Joe Sestak's (D) Senate candidacy tomorrow, the latest in a series of out-of-state surrogates getting behind the Pennsylvania Democrat.

"The two-term Nebraska Senator will speak about Joe's independence and focus on doing what's right not for Wall Street or Washington special interests but for Pennsylvania's working families," reads a release from the Sestak camp announcing the news.

Hagel's endorsement comes less than a week after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg backed Sestak, touting -- you guessed it! -- his independence.

After some debate over where the Bloomberg endorsement fit into our Fix Endorsement Hierarchy, we decided that it was rightly understood as an out-of-state statewide endorsement. That is, not exactly a game changer.

At first glance, the Hagel endorsement would seem to fit into the same category. After all, Hagel spent two terms as a Senator from Nebraska before retiring from the Senate in 2008, and, like Bloomberg, has some level of a national profile as a politician not terribly constrained by the ties of party affiliation.

Dig slightly deeper, however, and it seems clear that Hagel's endorsement is more about his own future political prospects than those of Sestak. The simple fact is that Hagel is virtually unknown in Pennsylvania and his endorsement of Sestak won't even register with most Keystone State voters.

But, endorsing a Democrat in a high profile Senate contest could well help Hagel -- sending a clear signal to the Obama Administration about the very loose ties that he retains to the Republican party.

Hagel has made no secret of his interest in serving in the Obama Administration and was mentioned as a possible successor to National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair when he resigned in May. (Hagel currently serves as the co-chairman of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board.)

And, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates making clear last week that he would like to step down in 2011, the timing of Hagel's Sestak endorsement has to be more than coincidental. (Hagel was mentioned as a possible Secretary of Defense in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 election but the President chose to keep Gates on.)

The Hagel endorsement of Sestak then merits the creation of a whole new category in the Fix Endorsement Hierarchy: the "me for me" endorsement.

The simple fact is that Sestak won't gain anything of significant substance from the endorsement; he may get some residual benefit from the perception that Hagel, like Bloomberg, is independent-minded or the expectation-turning that a Republican not backing former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) creates.

On the other hand, there could be genuine benefit for Hagel -- albeit symbolic. Hagel is rightly understood as trying out for a Cabinet job and the more he can show a willingness to put party aside to do what he believes is the right thing, the more attractive he will be to President Obama and his inner circle.

It will be interesting to see if -- and where -- Hagel chooses to insert himself between now and Nov. 2 and what benefit, if any, he accrues in the eyes of the White House for those endorsements.

The Fix Endorsement Hierarchy (ranked in order of influence)

* The Symbolic Endorsement: Ted Kennedy backing Barack Obama during the 2008 primaries.
* The In-State Statewide Endorsement: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist throwing his support to John McCain just before the Sunshine State presidential primary in 2008.
* The Celebrity Endorsement: Chuck Norris for Mike Huckabee in 2008.
* The Newspaper Endorsement: The Washington Post endorsing state Sen. Creigh Deeds in the 2009 Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary.
* Out-of-State Statewide Endorsement: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint endorsing former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate primary.
* The What Goes Around Comes Around Endorsement: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani endorsing former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Florida Senate primary.
* The Obligatory Endorsement: Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran endorsing McCain's presidential bid in 2008.
* The "Me for Me" Endorsement: Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) endorsing Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak's (D) Senate campaign.
* The Non-Endorsement Endorsement: Former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder passing on state Sen. Creigh Deeds in the 2009 governor's contest.
* The Pariah Endorsement: Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D) endorsing anyone.

By Chris Cillizza  | August 23, 2010; 1:13 PM ET
Categories:  Fix Endorsement Hierarchy  
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