Paul Hackett, the Iraq War veteran who became a hero of the blogosphere and a hot political property after he came close to grabbing a House seat away from the Republicans in an Ohio special election last summer, has left the race for a Senate seat Democrats desperately want to win in November with a shot at party leaders that resonated with a lot of progressives around the country. Claiming that key players with the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had pressured him to quit the Democratic primary contest against Representative Sherrod Brown, Hackett grumbled about “behind-the-scenes machinations that were intended to hurt my campaign” and complained that “my own party is afraid to support candidates like me.” The complaint sounded familiar to critics who have long argued that Washington Democrats harm the party by anointing candidates in key races and then drying up campaign money for more appealing–generally, more liberal–challengers. Former Senator Gary Hart deplored pressure on Hackett to drop out as simply “old politics at its worst.” Ken Bode, usually a savvy commentator, grumbled that the actions of the DC Democrats “indicate their commitment to politics as usual.”
There’s no question that the DSCC and the DCCC have lousy track records when it comes to selecting and supporting aggressive progressives who can energize voters and win elections–as the dismal results of House and Senate races in 2002 and 2004 well illustrate. (And let’s not forget that DCCC chair Rahm Emanuel is currently trying to impose an untested candidate with vague positions, Iraq War vet Tammy Duckworth, on Illinois Democrats in an open-seat race where progressive activist Christine Cegelis has a strong on-the-ground organization after winning 44 percent of the vote in a 2004 challenge to retiring Republican Henry Hyde.) But the Ohio story is more complicated than Hackett and his adherents would have it.
Hackett was not the strongest candidate in the Democratic primary race, and he certainly wasn’t the strongest progressive. With the filing deadline for the May Democratic primary rapidly approaching, Hackett was confronted with new numbers from his own pollster that showed Brown ahead among likely voters by an almost 2-to-1 margin–46 percent for the Congressman to 24 percent for Hackett. The poll revealed that despite Hackett’s full-time campaigning since last fall while Brown was tied up in Washington leading the fight against the Central American Free Trade Agreement and other Administration follies, Hackett had made few inroads among Democrats outside his southern Ohio base. Hackett has had a hard time convincing most Ohio Democrats–particularly liberal voters in the northern Ohio counties, where the party is strongest–that he would be a bolder or better candidate than Brown, who’s a passionate critic of the Administration’s rush to war and one of Congress’s ablest critics of corporate excess.
That’s the point that matters here: Sherrod Brown is precisely the sort of candidate who usually gets shoved aside by DC strategists who fear contenders from the democratic wing of the Democratic Party. He’s going to be the party’s Senate nominee this year not because he was imposed on Ohio Democrats by outsiders but because for all the national media attention that Hackett has garnered, Brown is the favorite of the grassroots labor, civil rights and antiwar voters whose votes are definitional in a primary and whose energy will be essential in November.