Pete Ricketts Wants to Know: How Much Has Hagel Hurt?by Kyle Michaelis
A voter survey being conducted by the Ricketts campaign asks respondents whether they consider taxes, the economy, jobs, health care or immigration to be the more important issue. The survey also asks whether participants would give a favorable or unfavorable rating to Chuck Hagel.
For starters, it's illustrative that Ricketts' poll doesn't ask voters to rank national security and the war in Iraq alongside the above issues of more domestic concern. Ricketts went on record this summer with his belief that voters are more worried about their taxes than any of the grave problems facing our nation.
It looks like this survey is Ricketts' attempt at substantiating that claim with the results he wants....not surprising, since he's yet to offer any substantive comment, criticism, or vision for American foreign policy beyond support for President Bush's increasingly deadly talk of "staying the course" towards disaster.
Still, the fact that Ricketts puts so little emphasis on the War in Iraq is really put into perspective by his polling on Sen. Chuck Hagel's popularity with Nebraska voters. Although Hagel is the de facto head of the Nebraska Republican Party - with his Chief of Staff even filling in as the state party's executive director - Ricketts knows that his opponent, Ben Nelson, would beat Hagel hands-down in a popularity contest, with Democrats and Republicans alike.
In fact, Hagel's approval rating with Nebraska Republicans has fallen to almost 50% in the most recent SurveyUSA tracking poll. Nelson consistently polls a full 10 to 15 points higher - even with Republicans. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Nelson is one of the top 10 Senators in the country in terms of net approval, while Hagel is in a four-way tie for 46th.
With numbers like that, Ricketts understands that aligning himself too closely with Hagel is not a pathway to victory and might even prove a liability for his as-yet going nowhere-campaign. Hagel's relative outspokenness against the War in Iraq (especially compared to Ricketts and the legion of spoon-fed Republicans in Congress) has alienated the farthest-right reaches of the Republican Party, the very people Ricketts has looked to placate and mobilize with his emphasis on hot button social issues and pure, blatant partisanship.
Of course, Hagel might also be a liability with these same voters on the issue of immigration, where Ricketts early-on supported Hagel's Amnesty proposal for undocumented workers and their families (which I, too, marginally supported). Ricketts has since backed away from those early statements, choosing to mince his words and attach his name to bogus election year schemes rather than standing and speaking on principles that are both logically consistent and intellectually honest.
So, the question remains of what impact Hagel has had, is having, and will continue to have on the Ricketts-Nelson race. Since helping align the big-time GOP Primary players behind the scenes for his chosen candidates - Gov. Dave Heineman and Ricketts - the one thing Hagel might have been an enormous help at was raising money. Yet, that effort failed not only because Ricketts is a free-spending son of a billionaire but also because national donors were looking for a winner and quickly realized that wasn't what they had here.
I suggested during Hagel's last publicity tour that his renewed criticism of the Bush Administration hinted at Hagel's giving up his long-standing goal of defeating Nelson and putting his own long-shot national prospects ahead of the long-shot odds faced by Ricketts.
The best thing Hagel could have done for Ricketts was to keep his mouth shut for a few months. Deciding, instead, to go for the glory, it makes sense that Ricketts would sense this personal betrayal and utilize his endless resources to decide just how much separation from Hagel he needs, choosing head-in-the-sand ostrichism over the Hagel-style ostracism by the radical right that would completely decimate the only base of support to which he has any claim.