Democrats lobby Hackett

Democratic leaders in Washington are aggressively courting Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett to challenge Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) next year.

Democratic National Committee leaders were expected to meet with Hackett yesterday in Washington. So, too, was Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), has called Hackett more than once in the past few weeks to sound him out about a run in 2006.

Members of Ohio’s congressional delegation also have urged Hackett to run or, at least, spoken with him about the race. JoAnna Kuebler, communications director for Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who had been touted as a possible Senate contender himself, said Brown and Hackett had discussed the “incompetence and corruption” that, she said, stems from one-party rule — in Columbus, Ohio, where Republicans control the state government, and in Washington.

“Senator Hackett, it’s got a nice ring to it,” Hackett said in a recent interview.

It all started a little more than a month ago, when Hackett, a Marine who had recently returned from the Middle East, narrowly lost his House bid in Ohio’s strongly Republican 2nd District.

The Democrat gained national attention by being the first veteran of the war to run for office, while slamming the commander in chief for invading Iraq and being, allegedly, a “chicken hawk.”

In staking out his antiwar position, Hackett appeared to have tapped into growing frustration with the war and a national network of peace activists eager to see him elected to Congress. Jim Schulman, who was director of policy research and veterans affairs on the Hackett campaign, said the candidate received donations from every state in the country.

“Every peace organization in the United States has contacted me,” Hackett said. “I don’t think they necessarily get that because I’m critical of the war in Iraq … I’m not wearing peace beads and hugging trees and singing John Lennon’s … ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ … I joined the Marine Corps. I love the Marine Corps. I happen to think it’s being misused in Iraq.”

Now Democrats are training their sights on DeWine. The senator alienated conservatives earlier this summer — first backing a bipartisan judicial-nominees pact and then opposing a gun-liability bill pushed by the National Rifle Association. Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R), meanwhile, is under an ethics investigation; Democrats have promised to tie DeWine to him.

What makes Hackett so attractive, Democrats say, is his strong fundraising potential — Schulman said he garnered nearly $900,000 for the abbreviated special election — his colorful story and his willingness to speak his mind, like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Also, like Democratic Senate hopeful Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Hackett is clearly to the right of his party’s leadership, at least when it comes to the Second Amendment. “The Democratic Party is wrong on guns,” he said.

Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), now running for governor, called Hackett a “superb candidate” whose politics and persona comport with the zeitgeist. “In politics, timing is, if not everything, it’s nearly everything,” Strickland said.

Now, Strickland and Schulman said, Hackett is probably looking to secure support, including money and campaign visits, from national Democratic leaders before committing to the race. Despite any perceived vulnerabilities, DeWine had nearly $3 million in the bank as of June 30 of this year, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.

“If I were the person, I would want a commitment for support that would be lasting and not be based upon the political conditions that may exist at any given time throughout the campaign,” Strickland said. “I would want staying power on the part of the Senate committee.”

DSCC spokesman Phil Singer said that the committee is “committed to winning this race, and our candidate will have the resources to do so.” Singer declined to comment on any conversations between Schumer and Hackett.

Michael Culp, executive director of the Ohio Democratic Party, suggested that Hackett might run for another statewide office. Democratic sources said Hackett is open to running for state attorney general but more eager to run for Senate.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley did not return telephone calls seeking comment on a possible Hackett candidacy.

Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, shrugged off talk of Hackett unseating DeWine, noting that Democrats had failed to recruit any “top tier” candidates. Reps. Brown and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) earlier declined to challenge DeWine.

“The Hackett momentum would more accurately be described as 15 minutes of fame,” Nick said.