Nebraska Senator Expected to Announce Candidacy

Jake Thompson, Washington Bureau Chief of the Omaha World Herald talks about an announcement expected Monday by Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who is expected to take the first step toward entering the 2008 presidential campaign.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

It's been billed as a big announcement in Omaha, Nebraska tomorrow, but no, it's not coming from billionaire Warren Buffett, it's a political announcement from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. The senator has been weighing a presidential run.

Here to talk about Hagel's likely move is Jake Thompson. He's the Washington bureau chief for the Omaha World Herald. Thank you for being with us.

Mr. JAKE THOMPSON (Washington Bureau Chief, Omaha World Herald): Thank you, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: The senator's campaign is portraying tomorrow's announcement is one of the most important of his career. Do you have any inkling of what Senator Hagel is likely to say?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, I think he wouldn't prolong this over a number of days to say that he's not running for president and probably not say that he's retiring. So I think there's a high expectation that he'll take a strong step into the presidential campaign. The question is how he will frame it, and whether he will set up a formal exploratory presidential committee to begin to raise money and lay a groundwork for a campaign.

ELLIOTT: Unlike most of the other Republicans seeking the nomination, Senator Hagel has been an outspoken critic of President Bush and the war on Iraq. How do you think that that factors into his decision of whether or not to run for the presidency?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, I think Iraq has been the issue that's framed very much of what he's said for the last several years, and I think he thinks larger than that and he would like to have a campaign, if he does run, that would be more than just about Iraq.

ELLIOTT: What would you say Senator Hagel's broader appeal beyond his opposition to the war is? I mean he doesn't have a whole lot of name recognition in a field that includes the likes of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani or Senator McCain of Arizona, for example.

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, I think he thinks of himself and he does have the record of being a fairly true-blue conservative, one that would like to return the Republican Party at least to a smaller government pro-business party than one that is driven by the social issues of the day. He votes right on social issues but he really cares much more about conservative ideals; and on top of that, I think he cares deeply about America's place in the world.

ELLIOTT: How does his position on the war play at home? How do Republican voters in Nebraska look at his position?

Mr. THOMPSON: Well, it's interesting, Debbie. When he first arrived in the Senate, he was kind of a bright young star among the freshmen class in his first term, and Nebraskans thought very highly of that; to have a senator on the national stage was exciting to them. As the wars developed and his criticism have been sort of continual in the last three years, there's been a fair number of Nebraskans that have become pretty angry with him, and they are Republicans. They may be frustrated with the war, but they don't like somebody directly taking on the Republican Party's standard-bearer, the president. At the same time, there are independents and Democrats here who feel that he's saying the right thing.

ELLIOTT: Thanks very much. Jake Thompson is Washington bureau chief for the Omaha World Herald.

Mr. THOMPSON: Thank you, Debbie.

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