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Republican in Line to Become Next Pentagon Chief?

Junko Kimura/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Is President Obama ready to nominate a Republican to a high-profile Cabinet spot?

With Leon Panetta talking about stepping down from his post as defense secretary, rumors are circulating around the Beltway that Obama could tap former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to take the top spot at the Pentagon.

Since leaving the Senate in 2008, Hagel co-chairs the president's Intelligence Advisory Board and is a professor at Georgetown University.

A conservative in both economic and social issues, Hagel established himself as one of the first Republicans to question the U.S. occupation of Iraq after it became apparent there would be no hasty departure from that war.

Senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts are also regarded as contenders for defense secretary, although Kerry would much prefer taking over the position soon to be vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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