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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Hackett’s Great Run

Those of you who frequent the more intensively political regions of the Democratic blogosphere undoubtedly know about Paul Hackett‘s campaign in a special congressional election in Ohio, and his impressive 48 percent showing yesterday. It doesn’t require spin to call this a large moral victory, given the overwhelmingly Republican nature of the district and the difficulty of mounting a successful insurgency in a special election, where turnout is usually abominable. In terms of its broader implications, the result is being widely interpreted as (a) a very good sign for Ohio Democrats looking forward to ’06; (b) a very good sign that Democrats nationally can compete in very red districts in ’06, with the right kind of candidates and committed support; and (c) a vindication of the power of the “netroots,” which raised a lot of money for Hackett and all but coerced the DCCC into a serious effort in this race. Taking these interpretations in order:(a) Absolutely, Ohio Democrats can and should have a spectacular year in 2006. The state’s entrenched GOP leadership, which controls all aspects of state government, has thoroughly worn out its welcome with Buckeye voters, combining bad policies and rampant corruption on a scale that seems to expand endlessly. And Ohio Democrats have properly made reform their mantra. Polls consistently show either of the current Democratic candidates for Governor, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman or U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, with sizeable leads over the most likely Republican candidates. Sen. Mike DeWine’s increasingly obvious vulnerability will almost certainly attract an A-list opponent in the next few months. The legislature is poised to flip. It’s all blue skies at this point.(b) It’s trickier to assume the Ohio Special is a 2006 bellweather nationally, though I obviously hope it is. As I recall, Dems did pretty well in Specials in 2003 and 2004 as well; Stephanie Herseth won in a South Dakota at-large district that was nearly as “red” as Ohio-2. On the other hand, the Hackett race was much more of a referendum on GOP policies in Columbus and in Washington than those earlier Specials. The real question is whether Dems nationally can win big with the kind of reform/anti-corruption message that worked well in Ohio. Yes, Ohio presents an especially lurid example of the consequences of total Republican control, but Ohio GOPers do live in the same debased moral and ideological universe as their brethren elsewhere, especially in Washington. So it’s definitely worth a try in ’06.(c) The “netroots” deserve a lot of credit for making the Hackett race competitive financially and organizationally, and for drawing larger attention to it. But obviously, a quasi-nationalized Special Election is an almost ideal playing-field for netroots-based fundraising and organizing. Replicating their disproportionate Ohio-2 impact in a national campaign with hundreds of targets and a plethora of local factors won’t be easy. The best sign, IMO, is that all this excitement was generated on behalf of a candidate nicely tailored to a “red” district, whose policy views probably were at odds with those of a lot of the folks generating the excitement and the cash. And I gather the national groups and bloggers involved in Hackett’s campaign let the candidate and his staff call all the important shots. In any event, it was a great effort in tough terrain, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing again soon from Paul Hackett.

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