Hagel puts off
decision on 2008 bid

Sen. Chuck Hagel,
one of the more forceful Republican voices in
opposition to the Iraq war—and the Federal Marriage
Amendment—on Monday put off a decision about a
possible presidential bid, saying he wanted to focus
on the conflict and other pressing national issues. In an
odd twist, the Nebraska senator called a news
conference to say he would decide about his political
future later this year, saying a late entry into the
2008 race is still possible.

''I want to keep
my focus on helping find a responsible way out of this
tragedy,'' Hagel said of the Iraq war.

The Republican
presidential field is crowded with 10 candidates, a number
that could grow as Newt Gingrich and Fred Thompson weigh
possible bids. Hagel's planned announcement touched
off speculation that he would join the 2008 White
House race or announce plans to seek reelection to a third
Senate term.

Instead, he told
reporters at a nationally televised news conference: ''I
am here today to announce that my family and I will make a
decision on my political future later this year.''

Hagel, 60, is
probably best known to voters as a high-profile critic of
the Bush administration dating to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
That criticism evolved into heated discordance in
January when the Nebraska Republican called President
Bush's plan to send an addition 21,500 U.S. troops to
Iraq ''the most dangerous foreign policy blunder carried out
since Vietnam.''
He also vocally opposed the Federal Marriage
Amendment the last time it came up for a vote in June
2006, saying same-sex marriage was a matter that
should be left up to states to decide on.

Citing the war,
Social Security, trade, and climate change among other
issues, Hagel said, ''I believe it is in the interest of my
Nebraska constituents and this country that I continue
to work full-time on these challenges.''

Hagel spoke at
the University of Nebraska at Omaha, his alma mater.

The senator is a
decorated Vietnam War veteran who made millions in the
cellular phone business. A conservative, he has sometimes
broken with the GOP leadership on foreign policy.

Several prominent
Republicans have already declared their intention to
run for president and have taken the necessary steps such as
hiring staff and raising millions for a White House
bid—former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen.
John McCain of Arizona, and former Massachusetts governor
Mitt Romney. (Margery Beck, AP)

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