The Democratic blogosphere was abuzz Tuesday with the news that one of its heroes, Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, had dropped out of the Ohio Senate race.
Hackett, a civilian lawyer and a major in the Marine Corps reserves, caused a sensation last year when he nearly defeated Republican Jean Schmidt in a special election in a heavily Republican congressional district in southern Ohio.
At first blush, Hackett’s exit seemed good news for the Democrats since it removed the danger of a costly primary and left seven-term Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown a clear shot at defeating incumbent Republican, Sen. Mike DeWine.
But left-leaning Democratic bloggers helped lift Hackett to his near-victory last year and some are irate that their man appears to have been squeezed out of the race.
Hackett said Monday party leaders pressured him to leave the race and made phone calls to his donors urging them to not contribute to his campaign.
Hackett blames party leaders
“I made this decision reluctantly, only after repeated requests by party leaders, as well as behind the scenes machinations, that were intended to hurt my campaign,” Hackett said in a statement issued by his campaign Tuesday.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday afternoon that over the past several months he’d had a number of conversations with Hackett.
“But I certainly never said ‘you should get out of the race,’” Reid said. “I’m disappointed that he feels I forced him (out of the race). If he thinks that, I’m sorry because that was never my intention.”
Asked if he had discouraged donors from contributing to Hackett, Reid said, “absolutely not.”
Reid said he was one of the party leader who had originally urged Hackett to run for the Senate.
But the political calculus changed after Brown declared his candidacy.
While Hackett raised nearly as much in campaign funds in the fourth quarter of 2005 as did Brown, his campaign lagged far behind Brown’s in total cash on hand, due to Brown’s assiduous fund raising while a House member.
At the end of 2005, Brown had $2.3 million in cash on hand, ten times as much as Hackett.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair, Sen. Charles Schumer, refused to comment on the Hackett withdrawal, referring all questions to DSCC spokesman Phil Singer, who issued the following statement: “Neither the DSCC nor Sen. Schumer reached out to donors to ask them to take sides in this race. Paul Hackett’s statesman-like decision will help us win one of the most important Senate races in the nation.”
Democratic blogosphere reaction was mixed with some such as “Kos” (Markos Moulitsas Zuniga) urging party activists to unite behind Brown.
'Brown better win this'
“I just have one thing to say right now: Sherrod Brown better win this,” said Democratic blogger “Adam B” on the Daily Kos web site. “I hope that once Hackett's many supporters get over this disappointment, we can all work together this fall to make it happen. At the end of the day, Chuck Schumer's not the enemy -- Mike DeWine is, as is every other Republican who stands between us and control of the Senate.”
But blogger Bob Brigham, who played a role in Hackett’s House race, had a scathing and obscene reaction. “Schumer has now ***** up beyond all recognition the primaries in both Pennsylvania and Ohio,” Brigham said in an e-mail distributed Tuesday morning. He called Schumer “a complete ******* fool.”
Brigham is chagrined that Schumer has recruited anti-abortion candidate Bob Casey, Jr., to run in Pennsylvania.
“The shortsighted bossing of primaries both demoralizes Democrats and hurts future candidate recruitment,” he told MSNBC.com this afternoon.
“Hackett, the 1st Iraq vet to run as a Democrat, in a time when we AS A POLITICAL PARTY are trying hard to deflect attacks by the GOP right wing machine on our commitment to national security & terrorism. And to do this in such a crucial Red State like Ohio. Unbelievable!” exclaimed a commenter nicknamed “fightingLadyinblue” on the MYDD.com website.
Republicans were quick to try to exploit the opportunity to inflame Democratic divisions. “The Democrat party bosses dumped a candidate with mainstream vote-getting potential for one of their most liberal members,” said Dan Ronayne, a spokesman for the Republican Senatorial Committee
Brown does have the advantage of representing a district in the Cleveland media market and has run seven successful House races. His voting record is very pro-labor union and he voted against the 2002 resolution to use military force in Iraq.
Assessing bloggers' importance
The negative reaction to Hackett’s exit “will certainly pass, it may even pass before the next news cycle,” remarked Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
“Hackett is the kind of candidate who illustrates that the blogs are loud, but not necessarily representative,” she added. “In this election cycle in particular, people are watching blogs and assigning them enormous importance that isn’t necessarily warranted.”
The Hackett episode showed that party leaders had decided it was worth risking the wrath of pro-Hackett bloggers in order to get the candidate they judged to be the stronger one.