Monday, February 27, 2006

“Dem Leaders Jubilant”


Washington, Feb. 15 –

Party leaders were jubilant this evening when Cincinnati attorney Paul Hackett announced he was withdrawing from the Democratic primary for the Ohio senatorial race. Hackett, a major in the Marine Corps Reserve who just recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, had drawn enormous grassroots support from voters across the political spectrum. Polls showed him defeating incumbent Republican Michael DeWine by a comfortable margin, a prospect that clearly frightened Democratic Party elders.

Hackett first drew national attention when he ran an unexpectedly strong campaign against Republican Jean Schmidt in the heavily gerrymandered 2nd District in Ohio—one of the most conservative areas in the United States—losing by only three and a half percentage points in what had been expected to be a Republican shoo-in.

During that campaign, Hackett had blasted Republican leaders as “bullies” who liked to talk tough, but got offended when somebody swung back. He described President Bush and Vice-President Cheney as “chicken hawks,” and called Bush’s famous “Bring ‘em on” comment to Iraqi insurgents as “the most incredibly stupid comment I’ve ever heard a president of the United States make. He cheered on the enemy.”

In addition to his willingness to mix it up with Republicans, Hackett also blistered the “me-too” approach top Democrats have taken on Iraq, charging that the Dems’ call for more troops in Iraq was “not grounded in reality.” Why not just admit that Iraq is going to fall apart, whether we leave tomorrow or five years from tomorrow, he had asked, and save a lot of lives, pain, and suffering by bringing everybody home now.

Such comments hardly endeared him to Democratic Party leaders, who have worked hard to show they were tough on the national security issue by “joining the parade over the cliff,” as one party critic put it.

“Hackett was a Democratic Party nightmare,” admitted a veteran political observer. “Young, tough, energetic, connected with blue collar workers, openly opposed to the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq…. If you dreamed up a candidate who was the exact opposite of current Democratic senators, it would have looked a lot like Hackett. He never would have fit in.”

Party bigwigs were disturbed by the meteoric rise of Hackett, whose political career has been aborted after just eleven months. “It wouldn’t have been so bad if he had started by running for the local school board or county executive committee and then worked his way up over the next few decades,” complained one official. “We have a guy already lined up for the senatorial race who’s been paying his dues for thirty years.”

Democratic leaders had been appalled at the prospects of a contested primary. “Can you imagine allowing voters a real choice?” asked one Washington insider. “Nobody wanted to get into that scenario, as you can well imagine.”

Said another, “He was a fresh voice. People who had despaired of politics-as-usual were coming back into the process. He brought enormous enthusiasm and momentum to the campaign. It’s a relief to see him go.”

© Tony Russell, 2006

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