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Why Is Chuck Hagel Endorsing Joe Sestak?

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) will endorse Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) today in his Senate bid against former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Hagel told the Associated Press yesterday that Sestak, a fellow veteran, will put the interests of the nation ahead of his party:

“I think he’s exactly what our country needs more of. I think he’s what the Senate needs more of — courageous, independent thinking,” Hagel said. “That’s what the job is about. You are supposed to use your judgment.”

Hagel’s endorsement comes just shortly after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also intervened from outside the state and the Democratic Party to give Sestak a boost, and Sestak will doubtless be happy to point to both nods when courting Pennsylvania’s independent voters.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, however, doesn’t think Hagel’s endorsement will help Sestak as much as it will help himself, calling it a “me for me” endorsement:

Hagel has made no secret of his interest in serving in the Obama Administration and was mentioned as a possible successor to National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair when he resigned in May. (Hagel currently serves as the co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.)

And, with Defense Secretary** **Robert Gates making clear last week that he would like to step down in 2011, the timing of Hagel’s Sestak endorsement has to be more than coincidental. (Hagel was mentioned as a possible Secretary of Defense in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 election but the President chose to keep Gates on.)

I’ll proffer a third, rather obvious explanation as well. Hagel, a moderate Republican, never got on well with the ultra-right, Club for Growth element of his party. Pat Toomey is a former president of the Club and is now one of its biggest beneficiaries. If Hagel wants to demonstrate his bipartisan credentials by sticking it to a Republican, Pat Toomey represents the best — and sweetest — option for revenge.

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