Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, a Democrat who captured national attention last year for his near-victorious congressional race in an Ohio district where President Bush had won 64 percent of the vote in 2004, announced last night that he was ending his bid for the Senate this fall. Hackett's departure from the race ends the prospect of a competitive primary and all but ensures that Congressman Sherrod Brown will challenge embattled incumbent Republican Mike DeWine this fall, in a race Democrats desperately need if they are to have any hope of recapturing a majority.
I don't know much about Brown. From what I've read, he's a good man and a good progressive, and I hope he wins. Party leaders had been pushing Hackett to drop out for weeks, largely because of Brown's perceived advantages in fundraising, organization, and experience. Hackett had been criticized for his high "burn rate," a political term of art that refers to how quickly a candidate spends the money he or she has raised. His well-publicized comment of a few weeks back comparing intolerant religious leaders in the U.S. to Islamic radicals probably made people like Chuck Schumer very nervous, and he's reputedly prone to a lot of swearing (a Marine trademark, some say). Finally, Hackett did not endorse Brown in his withdrawal announcement--a step that I'm sure confirms for some his bad judgment and unreliable temperament.
All that said, it strikes me that there's something very wrong with a Democratic Party that steps on the aspirations of citizens who enter politics out of conviction, rather than careerism, and that fears rather than embraces honesty and resistance to scripted, consultant-driven politics... particularly considering how badly Democrats have fared using those scripts.
Worse, the push against Hackett could threaten what I think is by far the Democrats' best storyline in 2006: the more than 50 military veterans the party has recruited to run for Congress. The message seems to be: "We want to use you as window dressing, but if we can't control you, don't bother." It will be interesting to see how many of the "Band of Brothers" will follow Hackett out of politics.
The party leaders wanted, and presumably still want, Hackett to repeat his 2005 run in Ohio's 2nd congressional district, where Jean Schmidt, the Republican who narrowly beat him last year has disgraced herself by slandering another Marine, Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman John Murtha, and will face a strong primary challenge. If Schmidt survives that, she'd likely be at a disadvantage in a rematch against Hackett; if she lost, Hackett likely would enjoy greater name recognition and a higher profile than the Republican.
But Hackett's not interested.
I will not be running in the Second Congressional District nor for any other elective office. This decision is final, and not subject to reconsideration.
I told the voters from the beginning that I am not a career politician and never aspired to be--that I was about leadership, service and commitment.
Similarly, I told party officials that I had given my word to other good Democrats, who will take the fight to the Second District, that I would not run. In reliance on my word they entered the race. I said it. I meant it. I stand by it. At the end of the day, my word is my bond and I will take it to my grave.
Compare that code of conduct to the reports that Democratic bigwigs, including Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, contacted donors to dissuade them from giving to Hackett.
Party leaders felt that Brown had a much better chance of victory in November. Given the facts of money and organization, and the congressman's presumed greater ability to avoid controversy, this might well be the case. But I will say this: if DeWine beats Brown, everyone who was involved in this decision should find another line of work. Because this will be the ultimate case of the tone-deafness of professional Democrats hurting the country as well as the party.