Tuesday, February 14, 2006

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Are those netroots showing?

Ian Urbina reports in the New York Times that Pail Hackett has dropped out of the Democratic primary to challenge Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio. It appears that Hackett is none too happy about the way the Democratic establishment has treated him:

Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran and popular Democratic candidate in Ohio's closely watched Senate contest, said yesterday that he was dropping out of the race and leaving politics altogether as a result of pressure from party leaders.

Mr. Hackett said Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York and Harry Reid of Nevada, the same party leaders who he said persuaded him last August to enter the Senate race, had pushed him to step aside so that Representative Sherrod Brown, a longtime member of Congress, could take on Senator Mike DeWine, the Republican incumbent.

Mr. Hackett staged a surprisingly strong Congressional run last year in an overwhelmingly Republican district and gained national prominence for his scathing criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq War. It was his performance in the Congressional race that led party leaders to recruit him for the Senate race.

But for the last two weeks, he said, state and national Democratic Party leaders have urged him to drop his Senate campaign and again run for Congress.

"This is an extremely disappointing decision that I feel has been forced on me," said Mr. Hackett, whose announcement comes two days before the state's filing deadline for candidates. He said he was outraged to learn that party leaders were calling his donors and asking them to stop giving and said he would not enter the Second District Congressional race.

"For me, this is a second betrayal," Mr. Hackett said. "First, my government misused and mismanaged the military in Iraq, and now my own party is afraid to support candidates like me."

Mr. Hackett was the first Iraq war veteran to seek national office, and the decision to steer him away from the Senate race has surprised those who see him as a symbol for Democrats who oppose the war but want to appear strong on national security.

"Alienating Hackett is not just a bad idea for the party, but it also sends a chill through the rest of the 56 or so veterans that we've worked to run for Congress," said Mike Lyon, executive director for the Band of Brothers, a group dedicated to electing Democratic veterans to national office. "Now is a time for Democrats to be courting, not blocking, veterans who want to run."

But Democratic leaders say Representative Brown, a seven-term incumbent from Avon, has a far better chance of toppling Senator DeWine.

"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."

Mr. Fern added that Mr. Brown's fund-raising abilities made him the better Senate candidate. By the end of last year, Mr. Brown had already amassed $2.37 million, 10 times what Mr. Hackett had raised.

I bring this up only because Hackett was Exhibit A in the power of the Democratic Party's "netroots." He almost won last year's special election in a district where no one thought Democrats could be competitive.

Hackett was also relying on the netroots in his nascent primary run -- this week he was TPM Cafe's Table for One (though it should be pointed out that Brown blogged last week for TPM). UPDATE: Here's a link to Hackett's withdrawal post at TPM.

The netroots ain't happy, either -- MyDD says, "This is ugly." Atrios concurs.

Click here to read the reaction among the Kossaks. Kos himself has a post that puts Hackett's decision into some perspective -- though I'm not sure his commenters would agree. Other liberal bloggers share Kos' sense that this was meant to be. This Ezra Klein post suggests Hackett would have given good interview).

It's worth remembering that Karl Rove has spent the last six years trying to hand-pick Senatorial candidates that can topple Democrats -- so it's hard to blame the Dems for doing the same.

[So why are you posting about this?--ed.] Because this is a pretty big slap in the face to the argument that the Democratic Party is being held hostage by its netroots base -- although the real test will be to see if Brown faces any backlash.

UPDATE: More on the netroots effect from Steve Clemons and Real Clear Politics' Nick Nordseth.

posted by Dan on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM


It says the Dems are being held hostage by money. Special Interests. There is no there there as far as political interests. Its the money. Pay your money, buy your candidate. The candidate will vote for anything you pay them to vote for.
Just run it through campain-finace-reform procedures. FEC should be called IPA, incumbent protection angency.

posted by: Huggy on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

I do agree that there is a disconnect here. Kos is not wrong to say "the netroots is not an ATM", but the fact is DailyKos has 200,000 unique visitors but only a few hundred of them bother to cough up a $20 check (=8 cups of Starbucks latte) from time to time. I personally think the system of large donor/corporate backed political contributions is morally bankrupt and corrupts the Democratic Party, but the money to counteract the Mighty Wurlitzer(tm) has to come from _somewhere_ and if that somewhere isn't the small donor where SHOULD it come from?


posted by: Cranky Observer on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

Anyone. No restrictions. Draconian laws for hidding where it comes from. Soros, or Haliburton, can try to buy an election as long as it's out in the open.

posted by: Huggy on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

I have enough loose cash laying about to mail someone a $20.00 check, but what good will it do me? Provide me a warm fuzzy? Let me participate in the Political Process--I already vote? What exactly are my "special interests" in a Congressional district race on the other side of the country? Beating a faceless/nameless Republican just for the sake of beating 'em? I find that idea just as obsurd as a comment I found on another blog where someone wrote that they didn't mind the Repubos going hog wild with the Public's Purse as long as it meant the [censored content here] Democrats weren't in power. Now, that lack of perspective or lack of a desire for Check & Balances in Washington concerns me.

The comment about the Democrats--I had never heard of the acronym 'DINO' until this blog entry's link to Kos--being tied to Special Interests is dull. Republicans are tied to Big Business. How is that different? They are politicans and influence the biggest Money Machine in the history of our country. Whoever is yanking on the arm hoping for a jackpot seems moot to me, and I don't foresee anyone wanting to make that cash cow lose any weight.

(For me, $20 check = 4.5 Starbucks Frappiccinos)

posted by: Yagij on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

Unless you have primary candidates who hate each other personally it is usually a mistake to pressure one of them to leave the race. If you feel you have to do that, and the candidate is reluctant, the prudent thing to do is to be publicly candid about your preference for the other guy.

Kos is right; Hackett could not have won the Democrat primary against Brown, who has higher name ID, much more money, and closer ties to the interest groups that dominate Democratic Party politics. But a primary race could have given Brown a substantial amount of free media coverage, which he will need. Democrats in Ohio -- not for the first time -- are underestimating DeWine, and are too prone to believe that since Brown is popular with everyone they know that he will be popular with everyone in Ohio.

posted by: Zathras on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

FWIW, as a person who's given a fair bit of money to Kos-touted candidates, including to Hackett for his Congressional race -- does that establish my "netroots" cred? -- I was not all that excited about Hackett's Senate run. Hackett has his pluses as a candidate but he was far from perfect. The upshot is that while I was very happy to support him against a GOP rival, I didn't think that there was any overwhelming reason to support him in the Democratic primary. (Compare, for example, the Cuellar vs. Rodriguez primary in Texas where the "netroots" have weighed in on the Rodriguez side.)

Short version: "netroots" =/= left-wing cult of personality.

posted by: alkali on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

If the DFL doesn't attempt the same kind of candidate-engineering proven so successful by Rove, they face even harsher criticism for still being the 'do nothing' party.

Since the DFL lacks the same vice-grip on attitudes and expectations enjoyed by the GOP, they will face more resistance when candidates like Hackett are asked to fall on their swords.

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

"...closer ties to the interest groups that dominate Democratic Party politics. Democrats in Ohio -- not for the first time -- are underestimating DeWine, and are too prone to believe that since Brown is popular with everyone they know that he will be popular with everyone in Ohio."

I think Zanthras could have easily replaced "Ohio" with "United States of America" and still been very close to the truth.

I'm one of those swing voters that is dying for a viable Demo candidate to bring a little more moderation/balance to the Federal Gov't, but I'm only doing it due to my mistrust of the Gov't and my easiness due to my president's administration. I'm not doing it because I believe--heck, I don't even really know?--in their platform. How the Demos can't benefit from these things are completely beyond me. Maybe I'm more on the frenge that I've lead myself to believe.

posted by: Yagij on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

The problem is that Political Junkies for the most part don't understand 70% of the US. 15% of that 70% regularly vote and were equally split. 50% doesn't regularly vote. Last election Karl Rove's strategy got out 5% of the 50% that usually doesn't vote. That swamped the Dems vote-early-and-often strategy.
Note that the previous election Bill Clinton got less than 50% of those that voted. Less than 1 in 4 elected him. This while running against a Republican party hack. Gerald Ford's old running mate. And those are the Dems glory days. The Dems are math challenged. -grin-

posted by: Huggy on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

And people still do not undertand how Hitler was voted into office.

posted by: Robert M on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

Did someone read Joe Klien's column in Time about Hackett? For good or bad, his columns have large impact. Reading that column, it was difficult to think how Democratic Party would allow his candidacy. He did talk about Hackett as the poster case of what referred here as 'netroot' candidate.

It is very fashionable to criticize Democratic Party, especially as some one like Huggy who writes 'Dems are Math challenged' (as if all the Field Medallists are in Republican Party!). People forget that Democratic Party has won elections in past and will in future too. Anyone remember Republican Party in Barry Goldwater's time? So let us not be under the impression that Democrats are simply fools and the whole store of wisdom is only with Republicans. Each partisan may feel like that, but that is not the truth. Otherwise founders of this union would not have gone for party based competitive democratic system.

I think it may be harsh or too cunning decision to drop Hackett. But there does seem to be the logic of winning ability and Democratic Party is within it's normal political calculus to determine that Hackett does not have higher chances. And it is not that in his place they are putting someone totally novice. Whether this proves Democratic Party is not beholden to Kos like Web activists is rather a less important point. Because web activists or non-web activists; what matters in the end is whether Party has an ear to people’s problems. To assume that in recent days Party only looks for blogs and web based information exchange is way too simplification.

posted by: Umesh Patil on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

I'm not a registered Democrat, but as an Ohioan and (like Hackett) former Marine, it would have been great to see him in the race longer. I understand why the Democrats did it, but this populist-vs.-establishment struggle won't go away.

As McCain would have told you a few years ago (and still might today), the rigid two-party structure simply disallows candidates that aren't bought, paid for, and sculpted by one of two boring and bloated parties.

posted by: b. phillips on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

Hmmm. Dropping Hackett is an interesting decision. I don't see it as that big a deal except for one or two things. If as Hackett says they pressured his donors to quit donating that is a bit of dirty pool, I think.

I think the Democratic leadership is thinking too tactically about trying to win control the next Senate instead of how to grow the party. Brown may be a more plausible candidate now but from afar seems like Just another Democrat (tm). Hackett and people like him possess potential to actually grow the party, to attract candidates who will gain voters who either sit on their hands or vote Republican now.

I think a slightly 'rough' primary campaign between Hackett and Brown would not lose Brown that much - and Hackett would have gained stature which he could use in a future campaign for the Senate or governor.

Bottom line is that the Democratic leadership played this one not to lose. Unless and until they start playing to win long term they will be spinning their wheels.

posted by: Don Stadler on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

Democrats would do well to use IRV in their primaries.

Do Instant Runoff Voting, and people get to vote for all the candidates they like. Afterward the losers can count up all the votes that had them in any position. If the winner got 97% and you got 94% you aren't exactly a big loser.

Theres a strong incentive to run a clean primary campaign. You want the other guy's supporters to support you afterward, which they'll do if you're their second choice.

Maybe the Democratic "leadership" thought that Heckett would win the primary and lose the election, while the other guy was more likely to win the election except he couldn't get as many Democrats to vote for him in the primary? If so, too bad they didn't handle Hackett better. But it might have been very hard to do. He wasn't a professional politician and he didn't get how he was supposed to respond.

posted by: J Thomas on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

There seems to be more to the Hackett story as revealed by Mother Jones (a rag which I normally don't bother to read).

"Economic sabotage, whisper campaigns, and threats: How the Democrats took Paul Hackett out"


The most explosive thing in the MJ article is the revelation there was a whispering campaign against Hackett alleging war crimes in Iraq:

"Swift boats soon appeared on the horizon. A whisper campaign started: Hackett committed war crimes in Iraq—and there were photos. “The first rumor that I heard was probably a month and a half ago,” Dave Lane, chair of the Clermont County Democratic Party, told me the day after Hackett pulled out of the race. “I heard it more than once that someone was distributing photos of Paul in Iraq with Iraqi war casualties with captions or suggestions that Paul had committed some sort of atrocities. Who did it? I have no idea. It sounds like a Republican M.O. to me, but I have no proof of that. But if it was someone on my side of the fence, I have a real problem with that. I have a hard time believing that a Democrat would do that to another Democrat.”"

If true, this is simply dirty pool - and suicidal self-destructiveness to boot.

Democrats, you need to grow your party - and knifing Paul Hackett is a good way to shrink it instead.

posted by: Don Stadler on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

If the republicans were already doing the smear, though, then it makes a certain sense for the democrats to give up on Hackett.

Just a few months ago I talked about politics with my old father and one of his old friends. They both insisted that it would be have been *wrong* for Kerry to be president. "All his purple hearts came from friendly fire! That tells you how popular he was with his own side!" "He lied about his military experience. We can't have somebody like that in the White House!"

Then they switched to talking about Social Security. They had all the details straight about how the SS "reform" was just a plan to steal the money. They were 100% against Bush on that. They were incensed about the lies the Bush guys told about it.

Then they switched to the war. They lived through WWII, when we took more casualties in one day than we have in the whole war so far. You have to trust the government, they're doing the right thing and it will all come out the right way in the end. "And if we pull out they're going to have a civil war there, we sure don't want that."

I asked them why they trust the government on the war but not on SS. They changed the subject. I asked them what we're doing in iraq that's preventing a civil war. They changed the subject.

It looks like Swiftboating works. So the idea of war veterans running as Democrats probably won't work. It ought to seem like a strange coincidence that hardly anybody in the US military does war crimes and the few who do all run for office as Democrats, but....

Swiftboating even works on McCain. The word is out that McCain caved in when he was a POW in north vietnam. He told them everything they wanted to know, and he got moved to the Hanoi Hilton so the other POWs couldn't tear him apart, and the north vietnamese treated him nice and exchanged him early. I don't particularly believe it, but the ammo is all prepared in case he gets out of line.

(I've forgotten whether the name of the special ritzy POW camp he was moved to was the Hanoi Hilton or something else. But the point is, the swiftboating is all ready and has been for years.)

posted by: J Thomas on 02.14.06 at 08:27 AM [permalink]

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