Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Good guy decides he won't run

It must have come as a relief to the already crowded field of presidential candidates when Sen. Chuck Hagel announced Monday he won’t seek the Republican presidential nomination, at least not just yet. Sure, Hagel’s candidacy would have been a long shot: He’s a decorated Vietnam combat veteran who says what’s on his mind, doesn’t smile much for the cameras and doesn’t have a long list of donors who expect big payoffs when their candidate gets into the White House.

Hagel probably hasn’t even tested his candidacy among focus groups or hired expensive advisers to tell them what he should be saying if he wants to be a credible candidate. He’s probably one of the most thoughtful people in the U.S. Senate, but that’s hardly a plus in our image-conscious political culture. He doesn’t even dye his hair, unlike most of the presidential candidates.

He probably doesn’t even kiss babies, unless they’re family. In a New York Times-CBS poll released this week, 6 in 10 Republicans say they’re not happy with the announced GOP presidential candidates. As many as 40 percent think their party will lose the presidential race next year. Among Democrats, only 12 percent think they won’t win back the White House.
If the presidential race were held now, Democrats would win by 20 percent with whoever their candidate might be.
Support for the war is dropping among Republicans, with 58 percent saying they want more flexibility in Iraq and 39 percent saying they want us to leave.

The good news for the administration: Bush’s approval rating is at 34 percent, up from 29 percent. Not great, but it could be worse and probably will be before too long. Hagel, Nebraska’s senior senator, doesn’t put on a happy face these days for good reason: He thinks our Iraq involvement is the biggest blunder since Vietnam, and many people respect him even if they don’t necessarily agree with that grim assessment.

But he’s that rare person in Washington who reaches out to politicians in the other party and hopes their sense of patriotic duty would bring them together and help make sense of the chaos we’re in. Hagel thinks he could accomplish more in the Senate than run around the country, sucking up to potential voters and donors.

This is what’s become of our political process: Candidates changing their positions on issues, dialing for dollars, oozing insincerity and listening to special interests and advisers instead of the American people.

Hagel said he might jump into the race, depending on circumstances in the fall. But in today’s political environment, a presidential candidate must plan two years ahead if he’s to be credible. Not long ago, 15 years to be exact, a youngish Bill Clinton could announce his candidacy in front of the Old Statehouse in Little Rock 12 months before the election. John Kennedy waited even longer.

But today, Chuck Hagel — who is Bill Clinton’s age and a year older than Sen. Clinton — may be seen as indecisive for not making up his mind sooner. But at least he has kept his dignity and can speak out on the issues and bring moral weight to the debate on Iraq.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads the Republican field in the latest New York Times-CBS News presidential poll, although that could change dramatically when his personal problems (three marriages, estranged children) and views on social issues (pro-choice, anti-gun) become better known.

Mike Huckabee is at the bottom of the pack and will probably stay there until he drops out and runs against Sen. Mark Pryor next year. Pryor takes the challenge seriously: He raised $800,000 last weekend for his re-election campaign.

Democrat Bill Halter, the lieutenant governor, is said to be considering a race against Pryor, but more likely Halter will run for governor when Mike Beebe is term-limited in eight years.The other political question of the day: Will Cong. Vic Snyder run for re-election next year or decide to spend more time with his family?