The One that Got Away.
We’ve known for years that the OH Democratic Party is brain-dead. The few Democratic officeholders represent district demographic advantage that GOP gerrymandering couldn’t get rid of and/or incumbency advantage. In spite of that, at the voter level, OH is still not a “red state.” And if the Democratic Party were clever and nimble, more Democrats might be elected, and the Hackett/Schmidt race demonstrated some strengths and weaknesses in both parties.
Once again, Democrats didn’t heed the maxims, “first, secure the base” and “second, mobilize the base.” OH-02 is an ugly district for Democrats. Not worth much money or grassroots effort in a regular election cycle. But all bets are off in special elections. That’s when minority party voters can make their votes count. With a phenomenally good ground game that floats below the radar screen of the national GOP Party and gets every general election Democratic voter to the polls, a liberal Democrat might even squeak through. Unfortunately, Democratic infrastructures are decades away from that skill level. Therefore, the best such opportunities offer is to elect a circa 1974 Rockefeller Republican like Hackett.
Hackett appreciated that he didn’t stand a chance if the race were nationalized and GWB and his cronies showed up to stump for Schmidt. Hackett’s job was to attract the lukewarm GWB/GOP voters along with Democrats but not look like an obvious winner. It was the job of Kerry/Kennedy/Vilsack to call up their buddies to move in with an independent last minute hatchet job (in this case “the truth about”) on Schmidt. It was the job of the Democratic Party and Democratic grassroots operators to mobilize a GOTV operation that the GOP didn’t see coming and turn on the grassroots money machine as much on the QT as possible. While the GOP could easily dump $500,000 into a tightening race in the closing minutes, they didn’t seem able to put their GOTV machine into high gear with only a few days to go. What this pointed out is that the GOP ground game is not quite as strong as we had been led to believe
Hackett delivered. The DNC and grassroots operations delivered but not quite as quickly and generously as needed. Hackett might have been horrified at the idea of a 401K sliming Schmidt, but nice guys finish last when the opponent is a sleazebag like Schmidt. Democrats are now comforting themselves with the fact that Hackett only lost by a small margin in a heavily GOP district. They are reading this as a sign that the tide has turned. Maybe it has, but with so many variables in play in the race, concluding that this proves that Democratic success is “right around the corner” is the same mistake Democrats have been making for years. Always underestimating the opposition.
Schwarzenegger won in a special election and it didn’t mean a damn thing about CA turning red. The liberal Barbara Boxer ran better in 2004 than Feinstein did in 2000. If Hackett in a special election couldn’t run better than Kerry had that district would be a hopeless case. Add to that the fact that Hackett was an attractive candidate and Schmidt was a nightmare. But was that attractiveness based on being an Iraq War vet or was it his full resume (Marine, attorney and former city council member) and his physical attractiveness and style (articulate and no-nonsense)? Hackett was a good package -- able to put into words what many in a conservative community may only now beginning to feel about Iraq and view it as more important to them than abortion and same sex marriage, two issues that he gets right and didn‘t try to fudge on. But that does that explain why Hackett won in the most conservative rural communities?
Were those voters more responsive to a former marine than suburban voters? Were the conservatives in those areas more turned off by Schmidt? Is it possible that the explanation is much simpler? That the number of swing voters in such areas have been underestimated for decades because their votes hinge on the single issue of guns? That they never look at the qualities of the candidates except when there is no difference in their positions on gun control?