Video: Politics Bloodier Than War

msnbc.com
updated 2/21/2006 5:23:43 PM ET 2006-02-21T22:23:43

From the moment he returned from combat duty in Iraq and declared his candidacy for Congress, Paul Hackett lit up Democratic Party activists.  The lawyer and Marine reservist is young, charismatic and outspoken.  He called President Bush a chicken hawk and worse, a SOB. 

In a special election last August, Republican Jean Schmidt urged voters to punish Hackett for his criticism of the president, and the national GOP poured in half a million dollars in anti-Hackett television ads. 

But the GOP did not pass it by much.  Schmidt beat Hackett by only four points.  It was the closest any Democratic congressional candidate had come to beating a Republican in the district in more than 20 years. 

“The Cincinnati Enquirer” called the narrow margin, quote, “nothing short of astounding,” and Hackett told his supporters... 

With attention from the media, a following among anti-war bloggers and encouragement from national Democratic leaders, Hackett soon declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. 

Twelve-term Democratic Congressman Sherrod Brown had declined, and Democrats thought Hackett would fare well against Republican incumbent Mike DeWine.

But in December, Congressman Brown changed his mind, wanting a Democratic primary battle with Hackett.  In January, Brown had $2.3 million in cash on hand, almost 10 times as much as Hackett.  Last week, Hackett withdrew from the Senate race, accusing national party leaders of squeezing him out by telling fund-raisers to stop sending Hackett money. 

Hackett joined Chris Matthews on ‘Hardball’ to speak about his decision and future political plans.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, ‘HARDBALL’: I, as a journalist and as a person who loves to watch big debates in this country, was hoping that your race would be one of the races in that country we could all watch this November and say now there's a guy who thinks the war in Iraq is wrong, the wrong policy.  He's taken on the policy.  The voters are going to get to vote on this war. 

Now they don't get that chance, do they, because you pulled out? 

PAUL HACKETT, IRAQ WAR VETERAN:  That's true I suspect.  I think obviously the voice I would have brought to it would have been unique, and it certainly would have been exciting.  And the reality though is I had to make a tough decision based on the amount of money it would take to close the race in the ensuing three months. 

MATTHEWS:  Why didn't you go down shooting?  Why didn't you just run and even if you risk losing, everybody risks losing, why didn't you? 

HACKETT:  Well, I have to ask myself what does that achieve in the end, what does it achieve for my party, the Democratic Party, which I me to be successful in November.  And I have to ask what it achieves for my staff and for my family personally.  And, you know, I didn't see anything positive coming out of that. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you see yourself losing? 

HACKETT:  What we found was if we were able to raise the money, we would have been successful in the primary, but that's $3 million. 

MATTHEWS:  To win the primary? 

HACKETT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Over the general question to win. 

HACKETT:  Total of $15 million is what I am told.

MATTHEWS:  To win? 

HACKETT:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And if you hadn't had that money, you wouldn't have been able to win? 

HACKETT:  No, I wouldn't have been able to get my message out.  I would have been responding to somebody else's message, and I didn't relish the idea of being on the receiving end of somebody else's attack without being able to swing back. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So you pulled out of the race under pressure from the Democratic leaders. 

Say it your way. 

HACKETT:  Yes, sure.  I was encouraged to get into this race, and I answered that call.  And I was asked to step aside in this race, and I answered that call too.  It doesn't make me happy, but in the final analysis, I pride myself in being a team player.  But, you know, there are times when you get asked to sit down and you're not necessarily happy about that. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I've watched politics for 30 some years now and I have never heard of a candidate being urged by party leaders to run and then told not to run once they told him to run.  What happened here?  Tell me the sequence.  When did you get to asked to run for the United States Senate?

HACKETT:  Shortly after the congressional race.  I was called by Senator Schumer. 

MATTHEWS:  Chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

HACKETT:  Yes.  And I was called by Senator Reid.

MATTHEWS:  The leading Democrat. 

HACKETT:  Right.  Right.  They called my wife too. 

MATTHEWS:  And they said Paul Hackett, run for the Senate in Ohio. 

HACKETT:  Yes, you know what they said is they said your country needs you, and for a guy like me with my military background, you know, that's like waving drugs in front of an addict. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Did both the Democratic leaders that called you, Chuck Schumer of New York, the chairman of the campaign committee, and Harry Reid, the minority leader of the Senate—did both say they would back you?  Did you hear those words? 

HACKETT:  Yes.  Yes, absolutely.  Financially and otherwise. 

MATTHEWS:  And how many months later did you get the notion that they weren't backing you? 

HACKETT:  Well, it became pretty clear shortly after Sherrod Brown announced that he was getting into the race.  The phone calls stopped coming.

MATTHEWS:  Did you call home and say are you guys still with me? 

HACKETT:  Yes.  And the response was we're going to be neutral in a primary. 

MATTHEWS:  So they went from endorsement to neutrality. 

HACKETT:  They went from endorsement to neutrality to eventually pecking sides, which, you know, that's politics. 

MATTHEWS:  But why did they do that?  You're talking about the leadership of the Democratic Party nationally.  Did you have the support of Howard Dean, the chairman of the party? 

HACKETT:  He was always very supportive. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he supportive of you now? 

HACKETT:  In the sense that yes.

MATTHEWS:  But did he pull the rug out from under you like the other guys did? 

HACKETT:  No, my take on it is I don't think he really had the ability to influence the... 

MATTHEWS:  So he's a figure head? 

HACKETT:  I didn't say that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is he if he's the chairman of the party and he can't endorse a candidate?  What is he? 

HACKETT:  I think he's a voice of the party.  I think he is an important fund-raising element in the party.  But I don't necessarily think that he is able to control elected officials.

MATTHEWS:  When you look around the country, Major Hackett, do you see any other people on the Democratic side or on the Republican side making an issue of the war in Iraq as a campaign issue for the American people to address this fall?

HACKETT:  I think most of the veterans who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan are making that an issue.  At this point, they don't have the same notoriety if you will, or infamy.

MATTHEWS:  No it's not—you had a lot of people out there on the people who don't think this policy is good for America and didn't think so from the beginning, but there are very few clear candidates out there that said, “No, this war has been wrong from the beginning.  I didn't vote to authorize the war.  I don't think it's good U.S. policy, I'm a patriot.  This is not helping our position in the world.”

The country, I think, needs a kind of debate like that.  I would argue because we didn't have one before we went to war.  It's healthy to debate and it's especially necessary to debate war and peace, I think.  Do you agree? 

HACKETT:  Obviously.

MATTHEWS:  Well then why did you quit the race?

HACKETT:  Three million bucks, $3 million.  I mean, that is the ugly reality.

MATTHEWS:  ... You can't get on the—in other words, you can't win.

HACKETT:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Because the other side can waste you.

HACKETT:  Exactly.  I mean, to put it in military terms, I can't shape the battlefield.

MATTHEWS:  Because the other side can waste you and then you have to spend money to defend your good name.

HACKETT:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Major Hackett, let me ask you about the decision to pull out of this race.  You went in with the endorsement of the chairman of the Senate Democratic campaign committee, Charles Schumer of New York.  It's his job to recruit candidates like you, he recruited you, right?

HACKETT:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And then recruited by Harry Reid, the party leader. 

HACKETT:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  So you were a recruit going into a new mission, you thought.

HACKETT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I'm serious, you were called into the mission by the top guys, you wouldn't have done it without their call, right?

HACKETT:  Absolutely correct.

MATTHEWS:  So you were recruited, you were a volunteer in this army of the Democratic Party against the war?  Right?  You're smiling, but it's what happened.  You're taking this too easy.

HACKETT:  Like a good attorney, I'm trying to see where we're going here.

MATTHEWS:  Where we're going is why you think they buckled.  Did you make too many comments that were hard for them to defend?  Was anything you did after the recruitment of you that justified their loss of faith?

HACKETT:  Not from my perspective, but I'm sure that my outspokenness on the war issue and many other issues that I believe in made them nervous.

MATTHEWS:  Did you call Bush a coke head before or after they endorsed you? 

HACKETT:  That's a good question.  I don't remember.  Actually, it was before, but it was published subsequently, but you know back then he hasn't denied it.

MATTHEWS:  Don't get into that.  I will not do that on this show.  I have no evidence the president has ever used coke.  He's admitted having an alcohol problem, I used to have one, I admit it.  Don't get into this if you can't prove it.

HACKETT:  Right, got it.

MATTHEWS:  Accept that as a condition?

HACKETT:  All right, yes, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Three months in the stockade.  OK, let's talk about this here.  When they told you to get out, because they never answered your calls, what was the final straw you decided, “I cannot wage an anti-war candidacy in a middle of the road state like Ohio, I can't wage one,” because I'm curious why we're not really going to see one this year in this country.

HACKETT:  Well I don't agree with the premise that—first of all, that I was waging solely an anti-war campaign.  I mean, I was talking about a lot of important issues, not the least of which is the economy.

And I think that the anti-war campaign if you will, can be effective if articulated correctly and accurately.  And obviously I think that somebody who had served as I have in Iraq has the ability to have that discussion, and have a little bit of insulation against the Karl Rove attack, which is going to come obviously against all Democrats running in 2006.

I mean, he made no secret of it that he will attack Democrats in 2006 for being unpatriotic, for being weak on defense and national security.  I actually think that my service in Iraq insulates me from that because there aren't...

MATTHEWS:  ... They weren't going to swift boat you?

HACKETT:  Well, with the Republicans, I anticipated the Republicans why going to swift boat me.  I didn't anticipate that the Democrats were going to swift boat me and that was the surprise.

MATTHEWS:  Who was doing that on the Democratic side?

HACKETT:  You know, the word came from many Democratic chairs in the state of Ohio that my primary opponent was spreading rumors about my service in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  What was he saying?

HACKETT:  I don't know.  He never said them to me, but I would hear back from Democratic chairs that I had...

MATTHEWS:  ... What are these photographs they're talking about?  What do they have of you doing?

HACKETT:  I have no idea.  I can only tell you that I served my country honorably.

MATTHEWS:  But there's no such thing as photographs out there showing you playing around with parts, human body parts.

HACKETT:  Absolutely preposterous.

MATTHEWS:  But you've heard these stories.

HACKETT:  I have heard those stories and they're absolutely preposterous.  I invite anybody who wants to make those allegations to come onto your show.  I'll meet them here.

MATTHEWS:  Did Sherrod Brown make those accusations?

HACKETT:  That's what I'm told by make county chairs.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe it?  Based upon the people you heard it from, do you believe that Sherrod Brown, the likely Democratic nominee for the Senate in Ohio, attacked—was whispering about an opponent in the—potential opponent, in fact, at the time, an opponent—was an Iraq war veteran who was behaving in a dastardly way with a victim of the war?

HACKETT:  Do I believe that it came from his campaign?  Yes, I do believe it came from his campaign.

MATTHEWS:  And you have reason for believing that?

HACKETT:  My reason for believing it?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HACKETT:  From the multiple different sources throughout Ohio, all consistently pointing in that direction.

MATTHEWS:  Have any of those sources gone on the record with newspapers or T.V. or anywhere?

HACKETT:  Some of them have been interviewed by “The New York Times” and some other sources.

MATTHEWS:  And they haven't been pick up then, that they haven't been trusted, or what?

HACKETT:  I think that they have not specifically said to them what they specifically said to me.

MATTHEWS:  Would you swear on a stack of bibles right now that Sherrod Brown has told untrue things about your war service?

HACKETT:  Well I would swear that many people have come to me and said that, because that is a fact.

MATTHEWS:  Have you ever asked him?

HACKETT:  No, I have not spoken to him or anybody on his staff literally in months.

MATTHEWS:  Well, when you do, let us know. 

HACKETT:  I will, indeed.

MATTHEWS:  Major Paul Hackett is not running for the Senate—will you ever run for office again?

HACKETT:  Probably not.  I want to be a part of politics as you may know, I've joined the IAVA, the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America.

MATTHEWS:  Are they anti-war?

HACKETT:  Yes, in the sense that they want to bring a swift and quick conclusion to the war on Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  I'm sorry, Majorwho do you have out there that you have faith in as an anti-war critic, a critic of the war who's running for office this November?

HACKETT:  I think all the IVA's.  Andy Horn down in Kentucky, there are a number of others around.  Eric Massa up in New York.  There are a number of candidates around who have served their country in combat and in other conflicts, who have the same belief that I do, that the military was misused in Iraq.  And that's really that's what the conclusion is.  The military was misused in Iraq by this administration. 

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,