Dems stumble in Ohio

Top Democrats are furious with state Sen. Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio), who failed last week to get 50 valid signatures to qualify for a ballot spot in a Democratic congressional primary.

“Rahm is pissed off, as well as he should be,” a top Democratic official said, referring to Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

“If you can’t do petitions, how can you do anything?” the official added. “It was totally misplayed. Charlie appears to be in over his head, and [Democrats are] pushing him to get professional help” from strategists in Washington who can raise money nationwide.

Another Democratic aide added, “Prior to having this problem, he was too confident. Now he has a healthier attitude about the race. He should be scared. He did not get on the ballot.”

The Wilson debacle came a week after Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett quit his bid against Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in the Democratic Senate primary.

Emanuel made several last-ditch attempts to help Hackett gracefully bow out of his race for the Senate and run for the House. But after several phone conversations, Hackett stopped returning calls from Democratic strategists, Democratic sources said.

Hackett then leaked his exit to The New York Times to embarrass Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC). Hackett spent the next 48 hours on television cable TV and radio railing against congressional Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Emanuel, Brown and Schumer.

Hackett alleged on MSNBC’s “Hardball” that Brown spread rumors that, as a Marine Corps officer in Iraq, Hackett had committed war crimes.

Speaking to local Democrats last week in Ohio, Hackett took a dig at Emanuel. “We want to keep all his minions in Washington, D.C. We want his money. We don’t want his help,” Hackett said.

While Hackett, whose opposition to the Iraq war made him wildly popular with Democratic activists across the country, decided not to challenge Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), Democrats face an additional challenge in Ohio’s 6th District, where Wilson has decided to run as a write-in candidate.

Since his petitions were declared invalid last week, Wilson has been trying to decide how to revamp his campaign staff. National Democrats blamed his son, Jason, and Bob Doyle, a D.C.-based Democratic fundraiser, for the invalidation of the petitions.

Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), who is giving up his seat to run for governor, said Friday that he would support Wilson. A dozen Democratic county chairmen endorsed Wilson yesterday.

DCCC officials had tried to persuade Wilson for weeks before last week’s filing deadline to replace his son as the campaign manager while Doyle reassured Emanuel that the campaign was running smoothly, Democratic sources said.

But Wilson, who was not available for comment, demurred on making changes suggested by professional strategists.

Recognizing that it needs to keep Strickland’s seat in the Democrats’ column if the national party is to win control of the House, the Ohio Democratic Party is questioning whether to spend $500,000 on the race, as it had once planned to, Democratic sources said.

Despite the recriminations, Wilson is trying to put his bid for Congress in the best light possible.

“Everybody is fully committed to moving forward. No sense in talking about the past,” a Democrat close to Wilson’s campaign said. “We’re going to start running his write-in campaign. He is in the process of choosing a new campaign manager.”

Wilson has raised over $200,000 more than his expected GOP opponent, and recent polling still puts him ahead.

Wilson had been acting as his own press secretary until last week, when he hired Amanda Wurst, who had been an aide to Hackett.