Will Hastert Say Farewell On Friday?

The congressional retirement season has started, and it appears former Speaker Dennis Hastert may soon announce his own plans to ride off into the sunset.

The Illinois Republican sent supporters a letter over the weekend asking them to join him for a speech this Friday at the Kendall County Courthouse in Yorkville, Ill.

The letter does not say whether he'll run for reelection in 2008 or announce his retirement, but speculation skews heavily toward retirement. And neither Hastert nor his aides have done much to dispel the widely accepted opinion back home that he'll call it quits. For example, an aide did not respond to an e-mail about the weekend letter.

Illinois has a relatively early election-year filing deadline, forcing Hastert to announce his plans by Nov. 5. And Republican congressional leaders are encouraging senior members to announce their plans during the monthlong August recess to give potential candidates more time to raise money to compete in what could be another difficult stretch for the GOP.

Illinois Republican Rep. Ray LaHood has already announced his own retirement.

Hastert, 64, was first elected to Congress in 1986 and became the longest-serving Republican speaker in House history in June 2006.

He broke with tradition when he decided last year to return for the current term after Democrats bounced Republicans from power last fall, forcing him to relinquish the speaker's gavel to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The former speaker has been a quiet presence this year, dutifully voting and helping GOP leaders craft an alternative energy proposal to counter Democratic measures to boost the consumption of renewable fuels. His GOP colleagues also like to bend his ear with political questions, given his rarefied former post.

Most recently, Hastert offered House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) stern words on the floor during the meltdown over a miscounted vote before members left Washington.

Still, the former speaker, who has lost more than 50 pounds since giving up the gavel, generally maintains a slimmer profile in the halls of Congress these days in an effort not to overshadow the current leaders.

His northern Illinois seat is solidly Republican, but a fractious GOP primary could give Democrats the opening they would need to pick up a seat.

Among Republicans, an outspoken conservative, a local mayor and a dairy magnate who has already run for the Senate seat now occupied by Democrat Barack Obama are expected to run if Hastert does not.

On the Democratic side, a retired scientist at the renowned Fermilab, a lawyer and a former intelligence officer who lost to Hastert last fall are already running, no matter what Hastert decides.
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