With the announcement today that Sen. Chuck Hagel is retiring, Republicans in the Senate are privately giving big props to National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Sen. John Ensign for his behind the scenes support to Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, which started about six months ago.
Bruning, a solid conservative and supporter of the Iraq War, quietly made a visit to Washington in the spring to gauge political and financial support from Senatorial, the RNC, and K Street. Initial meetings among fundraisers and donors weren’t forthcoming until Ensign quietly encouraged them.
Bruning today is now considered the frontrunner for a seat that by all rights should stay in the GOP side of the aisle.
“Hagel was running to the left of his constituents,” says a knowledgeable GOP Husker. “At least for Republicans in Nebraska there is support for the war effort. Hagel was just out of touch.”
The fight for the GOP nomination will most likely be a scattered one, with at least two to three more Republican entrants.
Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey has also indicated an interest in running for the seat, though after years of living in New York and consistently opposing the Iraq effort, he would be an interesting foil to Bruning, a bright, energetic conservative. “It would be like Bruning vs. Hagel all over again,” says the GOP insider.
Democrat National Committee chairman Howard Dean has asked other California and national fundraisers to pick up the slack of disgraced big-time donor Norman Hsu, who is currently under guard in a Colorado hospital after fleeing the San Francisco Bay Area last week.
Hsu was expected to organize at least three major Democrat events on the West Coast in the coming weeks, though at least two of those events are now in doubt.
Hsu, who has raised, by conservative estimates, more than $1 million for Democrats in the past election cycle, spent the latter part of 2006 being wooed by every major Democrat presidential campaign for high profile fundraising roles in their national campaigns. In fact, the Hillary Clinton campaign had offered Hsu a very clear role.
“Around the office it was known back in January or February that Hillary’s finance people had offered Norman the finance chair job for the Western part of the country,” says a DNC staffer with ties to the Clinton campaign. “It was a similar role that he was seeking from other campaigns before he made his final choice.”
“No one vetted him,” says another Clinton insider. “The kind of money he was promising and then bringing in was all our people needed to see, and he had a track record.”
Now the DNC is trying to figure out where all of Hsu’s donor money was coming from, and other presidential campaigns are trying to put their opposition research teams on the case to see if there is more damaging information to use on Hsu against Clinton.
“This has the smell of another Clinton/Chinese money scandal,” says a researcher on a rival Democrat presidential campaign. “We weren’t ready to trot all of that old history out, but the Hsu story is changing that a bit. Funny how it’s the Clintons who find a mysterious fundraiser with ties to Hong Kong and China, who is giving them hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Another campaign says they are looking into rumors that former President Bill Clinton might also have profited from a relationship with Hsu and some of his business partners.