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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Hackett’s Near-Upset Shakes GOP

GOP spin doctors are scrambling to put a happy face on Paul Hackett’s near-upset of Jean Schmidt in Tuesday’s congressional election in Ohio’s most conservative congressional district. “Special elections are unique, they don’t always reflect the district’s usual results,” explained National Republican Congressional Committee spokessman Carl Forti, quoted in today’s New York Times.
The GOP post-mortems argue correctly that, after all, Schmidt won by a margin of 51.7 – 48.3 percent. True enough, but if Hackett received another 1787 votes of the total cast, he would have been elected.
They point out that it was a low turnout –about 25 percent of eligible voters, or 112,375 total votes. But this argument underscores the GOP’s weakness in delivering a low turnout in one of their strongholds.
But not all Republicans were in denial. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich issued a candid warning to the GOP, as quoted in today’s WaPo:

“It should serve as a wake-up call to Republicans, and I certainly take it very seriously in analyzing how the public mood evidences itself,” Gingrich said. “Who is willing to show up and vote is different than who answers a public opinion poll. Clearly, there’s a pretty strong signal for Republicans thinking about 2006 that they need to do some very serious planning and not just assume that everything is going to be automatically okay.”

Ohio GOP political director Jason Mauk put it this way:

To the extent that voters in that district were sending a message to the Republican Party at the state or national level, we have heard that message and we will continue to listen to their concerns.

One of the key lessons of Hackett’s near-win is the power of the liberal blogosphere in raising needed funds for individual campaigns. Lead by The Swing State Project, liberal bloggers raised an estimated $500,000 for Hackett, two-thirds of his campaign budget of $750,000, according to the WaPo article.
Another lesson for Dems is that Hackett’s impressive tally was boosted by his refusal to water down his criticism of the Administration’s Iraq policy or tone down his anti-corruption message. Hackett also used some strong rhetoric during the campaign, reportedly calling President Bush an “s.o.b.” and a “chicken-hawk.” An interesting question is whether the name-calling helped or hurt him. When asked if his rhetoric helped his campaign, Hackett, who clearly appreciates the importance of consistency, was quoted in a Cincinnatti Post article as saying “Meant it, said it, stand by it…I’d say it again. For every vote I may have lost because of it, I probably picked up one or two.” There should be no doubt, however, that his tough stands on Bush’s Iraq policy and GOP corruption in Ohio resonated with many of the 2nd district’s swing voters.