It looks like Bob Kerrey, the New School’s President since 2001, has backed off just a little from his earlier statements that he wouldn’t head back to Nebraska to run for the Senate next year.
This means several things:
1) Chuck Hagel is not running for re-election: Kerrey, who represented Nebraska with his fellow Vietnam veteran in the late ‘90s, had promised to write Hagel a check if he ran for a third term in 2008. Now Kerrey is saying publicly that he doesn’t think Hagel will run – which probably means that he got something approaching an iron-clad guarantee in private.
2) Chuck Hagel is either running for President or retiring from politics: If he wants to seek the White House, it almost certainly has to be as an independent. Given the shortcomings of the top G.O.P candidates, there’s a theoretical vacuum in the Republican race – but Hagel, who’s been branded disloyal for his war opposition, is unlikely to fill it (even though he would give the G.O.P. its best – and perhaps only – shot of retaining the White House next year). An independent bid would be tough because of Hagel’s modest name recognition and campaign treasury. A teaming with Mike Bloomberg seemed to be his most logical option, but did Bloomberg’s comments to Dan Rather kill that idea? Would a Hagel independent bid now be doomed from the start to Ross Perot ’96-land? Maybe, at 62, he will jut hang it up in ’08.
3) Democrats are poised to expand the ’08 Senate playing field: Nebraska is a red state, but Kerrey is one of the few Democrats who can win it. (He previously won the governorship in 1982 and Senate races in 1988 and 1994 and has never lost in the state.) The Republicans seem poised to nominate Jon Bruning, the conservative state attorney general, who had been planning to challenge Hagel from the right in the G.O.P. primary. Against the other Democrats who have been eyeing the race, Bruning would have been the favorite. Against Kerrey, he’s probably an underdog. Republicans have a lot more turf to defend than Democrats in ’08 – 22 seats to 12 – and Nebraska is yet another G.O.P. seat that the Democrats are primed to pick off. The G.O.P. will obviously brand Kerrey an opportunist and a sort-of carpet-bagger (remember how he flirted with running for mayor of New York in ’05?), but even if they beat him, they will have to expend considerable resources to do it.
4) The New School will need a new President: Is there another retired politician in New York who could take over for Kerrey? Doesn’t George Mitchell live here??