Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Ejection of Paul Hackett

It’s a good thing I’m going on vacation – I need some time to digest this one.

Paul Hackett, the former Marine and Iraq war Veteran who nearly beat Republican Jean Schmidt out of a House seat last year -- in one of the most conservative Congressional districts in the country -- has withdrawn from the race for the Democratic Senatorial nomination in Ohio. Citing heavy pressure from the national Democratic party, Hackett withdrew to clear the way for party favorite, Representative Sherrod Brown.

Hackett has declared his political career over and said he was pressured by party leaders to drop out of the Senate primary and run for the House against Schmidt again.

"My donor base and host base on both coasts was contacted by elected officials and asked to stop giving," Hackett said, adding that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the head of the party's Senate campaign committee was in the lead in those efforts. "The original promise to me from Schumer was that I would have no financial concerns. It went from that to Senator Schumer actually working against my ability to raise money."

Hackett has said he will not vie for Schmidt’s seat again as he has given his word to three Democrats running in the district that he would not run.

"I couldn't sleep with myself if I did to them what was done to me," he said. "At the end of the day, my word is my bond and I will take it to my grave. Thus ends my 11-month political career."

"It boils down to who we think can pull the most votes in November against DeWine," said Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. "And in Ohio, Brown's name is golden. It's just that simple."

Fern also noted that, with the high cost of unseating an incumbent Senator, it could also not be ignored that Brown had already raised $2.37 million by the end of 2005, 10 times what Hackett had accumulated.

But here’s my problem with this: With so much at stake and with so many opportunities to take the fight to the GOP, where has Sherrod Brown been the last few years, except performing an invisible-man act? Part of what attracted so many of us to Hackett last year was his willingness to call a spade a spade, including saying recently that the Republican party has been hijacked by religious extremists who he said "aren't a whole lot different than Osama bin Laden."

When Republicans whined for an apology, Hackett said simply "I said it. I meant it. I stand behind it."

We like that. Most Americans like that rarely-seen quality -- a politician who is actually willing to stand up for something and not back down.

So the question to Democratic leaders is whether we are here to reward tenure or to win a U.S. Senate seat. While I yield to nobody in my regard for Sherrod Brown and his impeccable liberal credentials, for better or worse, elections are won on rhetoric, charisma and, most importantly, on television. Hackett has a gravitas and magnetism that brought him from nowhere to almost overnight stealing a Congressional seat in a GOP stronghold. What would he have done statewide in Ohio?

I strongly question why we would opt for a candidate who has been quiet as the proverbial church mouse during George W. Bush’s reign of error, over a dynamic, intelligent fighter like Paul Hackett.

This nonsense of forcing Hackett out before the primary season even began is deplorable because what they have done is deprive Ohio Democrats the right to decide who will be their standard bearer against DeWine. In an almost-Republican act of disenfranchisement, Democratic honchos have made the decision that Brown is their guy, regardless of what Ohio voters may have wanted.

And despite the old conventional wisdom that a primary would leave the eventual nominee bruised going up against DeWine, there was evidence to suggest that might not be the case with these two candidates. And even if it did, that’s the risk you run in a Democracy.

Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and anyone else involved in forcing Hackett out have screwed Democratic voters out of a choice and, at a time when we need to bring our best, have ditched the man who was possibly our best chance at taking back that Ohio Senate seat.

And, for that, they should be ashamed.