Bloomberg-Hagel Run Increasingly Unlikely

The possibility of Sen. Chuck Hagel joining Mayor Michael Bloomberg on an independent presidential ticket seems to be dimming, with Bloomberg distancing himself on Monday from the Nebraska Republican.

The New York Times reported Saturday about a conversation one of its reporters had last week with Hagel, during which Hagel confirmed he had spoken with Bloomberg in the past about possibly being the billionaire's running mate.

The story contained no direct quotes but paraphrased Hagel as saying the rise of John McCain as the GOP nominee essentially closes Bloomberg's window of opportunity to jump in the race because of McCain's appeal to independents and moderates.

Asked Monday about Hagel's claim that the two have discussed running together, Bloomberg flatly denied that any conversation about those topics ever took place, and portrayed his relationship with Hagel as a distant one.

"I have met him a couple of times ... and I never talked to him once about being the candidate, and certainly not about who, if I were to run, which I'm not, who you would pick," Bloomberg said. "We just never had that conversation."

Hagel's chief of staff, Mike Buttry, said later Monday that the senator's conversation with Times contributor John Harwood had been "overplayed."

Buttry said Hagel did not tell the Times that he had been asked to run with Bloomberg — he only said the two had had "general conversations."

Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty said "we stand by what John Harwood reported Chuck Hagel told him."

The Bloomberg-Hagel speculation began last May when Bloomberg and Hagel shared a not-so-secret dinner in Washington. Then, Hagel said in a television interview that it was time for a third-party candidacy to shake things up. He also mused about the idea of him and Bloomberg running together.

"It's a great country to think about — a New York boy and a Nebraska boy to be teamed up leading this nation," Hagel said last spring.

The pair met up again for dinner last November in Manhattan, have spoken occasionally by phone, and were together for a bipartisan summit last month in Oklahoma.