Why Chuck Hagel Is Endorsing a Democrat

Is he after the Secretary of Defense job?

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A curious piece of political news today came from Pennsylvania, with the announcement that Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak would be endorsed by former Senator Chuck Hagel at rallies tomorrow in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. At first glance, Hagel--a Nebraska Republican--doesn't seem like someone who would hold much sway with Keystone State voters. So what does his endorsement really mean?

  • Hagel Angling for Secretary of Defense Job?  Hagel's decision to back Sestak's struggling campaign (he trails Republican Pat Tooney by 9 percentage points in the latest polls) says less about Sestak and more about Hagel's desire to burnish his credentials with liberals, contends The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. Cillizza says the announcement is an example of the "me for me" endorsement. Despite the fact he is "virtually unknown in Pennsylvania" entering the fray sends "a clear signal to the Obama Administration about the very loose ties that [Hagel] retains to the Republican party." It is "more than coincidental," Cillizza argues, that the endorsement comes on the heels of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' announcement that he would step down in 2011.

  • Very Bipartisan, Even for Hagel  Politico's Shira Toeplitz downplays any Machiavellian motivations, noting the endorsement is in keeping with Hagel's "reputation for bucking his own party," dating back to his refusal to endorse John McCain for president in 2008. Despite Hagel's propensity to push against conventional wisdom, Toeplitz acknowledges this type of "bipartisan backing is unique — especially in a hotly contested Senate race."

  • Good or Bad for Sestak?  The Weekly Standard's John McCormack acknowledges Hagel's backing "might help give Sestak the appearance of being bipartisan," but wonders if it might hurt Sestak in the long run. "An endorsement from Hagel," writes McCormack, "who has a 'Questionable Israel Record,' according to the National Jewish Democratic Council, is another reminder of Sestak's own record on Israel that pro-Israel groups find troubling."

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