After making the case for a presidential bid by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) on Wednesday, we promised you the case against on Thursday. But events intervened, as The Fix was traveling and wasn't able to find a reliable connection to the Internet.
So, today we provide the promised case against a Hagel candidacy:
Mavericks Never Win
Primaries -- especially presidential primaries -- are about appealing to base voters. For Republicans, that means emphasizing a strong national defense, cutting taxes and saying all the right things about hot-button social issues like abortion and gay marriage. Hagel is far from the perfect fit for this sort of voter.
On the war in Iraq, he has been highly critical of President Bush -- more often finding agreement with the Democrats on the issue than with his own party. Regardless of where the nation as a whole is in regards to the war, the base of the Republican Party remains largely supportive of Bush's effort and views any call for a withdrawal as a recipe for a loss.
Hagel would almost certainly appeal to the segment of Republican voters that wants a change of course in Iraq and is ready to elect someone who represents a wide divergence from the current president. But it seems unlikely that Hagel would find a big enough niche as the anti-Bush candidate to make a real impact in the GOP primaries.
Need evidence of the difficulty as running as the anti-establishment candidate? Go back to 2000 when Sen. John McCain ran a campaign centered on his willingness to buck the party establishment. McCain's overall Senate record was quite conservative, but he chose to emphasize the fact that he was willing to speak truth to power -- regardless of who held power at the time.
Many voters (especially independents, Democrats and moderate-minded Republicans) flocked to that message, but McCain was not able to overcome the resistance of the conservative wing of his party. That bloc of voters played a crucial role in stunting McCain's momentum in the South Carolina primary. Hagel faces a similar scenario, even if he can gain real traction in the early primary states.
The other major problem he has is that McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are already well on their way to raising tens of millions of dollars and building the state and national networks necessary to sustain a presidential bid. Hagel, in contrast, has done little to convince party insiders he is serious about a run for national office. He has hired no staff of note in early states and has not concentrated on raising money either through his Senate campaign committee ($141,000 on hand at the end of 2006) or PAC ($39,000). He appears visibly uncertain about whether he should run for president, reelection to the Senate or not all in 2008.
Yet he's leading over Romney in several polls. For someone who hasn't declared his candidacy, he's doing VERY well.
Donors don't like uncertainty in a candidate, so it's not hard to understand why Hagel has yet to generate any significant buzz in the financial world of the Republican Party. That lack of intensity is made worse by the fact that Nebraska is not anything close to a lucrative financial center where he could extract the seed money ($5 to $10 million) he would need to get a presidential bid off the ground.
He can get money from his Senatorial reelection campaign which some have donated to.
Hagel's lack of financial resources -- and his dim prospects for a huge boost in the near future -- means that he would likely be hamstrung during the primary season against better-financed rivals. Even if Hagel's message if truly compelling, many people in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire may never get to hear it.
As The Fix argued on Wednesday, Hagel's best bet is to try and make an impact in Iowa. He could pour his entire budget into the state in hopes of finishing in the top three and scoring a bounce into New Hampshire -- a state that has rewarded renegade Republicans before (e.g. McCain in 2000).
But Hagel faces stiff competition from other candidates who also need to make a big statement in Iowa: McCain, who skipped the state in 2000, knows he must do well there in 2008; Sen. Sam Brownback (Kans.) and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.) are also pointing to the state as their first and best chance to grasp the mantle of conservative alternative in the race.
Not a good playing field for the Nebraska senator.
And the biggest mistake over all: it's a year away. A LOT can happen - and most of the time, the "front runner" doesn't win.