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Analysis: Hagel's decision a blow to GOP's Senate prospects

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska announced he will not seek re-election in 2008
  • GOP Sens. Warner and Allard already announced retirements
  • Retirements could allow Democrats to pick up seats in the Senate
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By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Deputy Political Director
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Chuck Hagel's announcement Monday that he won't seek another term makes the Republican Party's already tough task of trying to take back the Senate in 2008 even tougher.

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Sen. Hagel announces in Omaha, Nebraska, his decision not to seek re-election Monday.

"I'm here with my family to announce I will not seek re-election," Hagel said at a news conference in Omaha, Nebraska, adding "nor will I be a candidate for any office in 2008."

Those last words should put to rest any speculation that the Republican senator from Nebraska has any interest in pursuing a run for the White House in 2008.

Hagel's decision puts the Republican Party in a bind as they try to recapture the Senate next year. Democrats control the chamber by a razor thin 51 to 49 margin, but the GOP must defend 22 seats compared to the Democrats' 12 in 2008.

And of those 22 seats, Hagel and two of his fellow Republicans, John Warner of Virginia and Wayne Allard of Colorado, are retiring. The Colorado and Virginia seats could be in play for Democrats, and Republicans might be in jeopardy of losing the Nebraska seat if former Sen. Bob Kerrey runs for the Senate again.

An unpopular war and an unpopular president, coupled with a superstar candidate, spell bad news for Republicans even in states that have been reliably "red" such as Nebraska. To counter the Democrats, the GOP is hoping for its own superstars.

National Republicans are hoping that former Nebraska governor and current Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns will jump into the race now that Hagel is out. A Kerrey-Johanns contest would be a bruiser.

But Johanns may not have the Republican field to himself if he decides to run. Hagel is one of his party's most vocal critics of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war. That criticism prompted Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning to mount a primary challenge to Hagel, and there are no guarantees Bruning would step aside for Johanns.

In Virginia, the 80-year-old Warner announced over a week ago that he won't run for re-election. Democrats have won three major statewide elections in Virginia this decade. Democratic leaders are hoping that former Gov. Mark Warner, who left office with high approval ratings, will seek the seat and put it into their column.

"Virginia has been a reliable Republican state since the 1960's with an occasional Democratic breakthrough," said CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider. "Now those breakthroughs are becoming more frequent."

On the Republican side, there could be a bitter primary fight between Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate Republican from Northern Virginia, and conservative former Gov. Jim Gilmore. Gilmore dropped out of the presidential race earlier this year.

In addition to potentially tough races ahead for them now in Nebraska, Virginia and Colorado, a number of Republican senators up for re-election next year will be fighting for their political lives. The lists includes: Susan Collins of Maine, John Sununu of New Hampshire, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Gordon Smith of Oregon. As of now only one Democrat up next year, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, appears to be facing a major fight.

And it's not only the numbers that are stacking up against the Republicans. "You've got an unpopular war, an unpopular president and an overwhelming desire for change and in a presidential year the incumbent president's party defines the status quo," said Schneider.

Also hurting Republican candidates are the various scandals and investigations into several of their colleagues. Democrats coined the "culture of corruption" slogan last year as the party successfully wrested control of the House and Senate from Republican hands. They are hoping it works again in 2008.

The most recent sex scandal involving Sen. Larry Craig should not hurt the GOP's chances of holding onto that seat in 2008 if the Idaho Republican does indeed resign from office at the end of the month. In the very least, though, the controversy over his arrest in a Minneapolis, Minnesota, airport restroom and subsequent guilty plea is not helping his party one bit. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Mark WarnerJohn WarnerChuck HagelBob KerreyWayne Allard

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