The Ohio Senate race next year may soon become one of the nastiest fights. I hope it doesn’t. But I’m afraid it will. And if you’re wondering, I’m not talking about the general election fight against Mike DeWine, though that will be plenty nasty as well; I’m talking about the Democratic primary.
If you’re just now becoming aware of what’s going on, let me recap.
For months, Democrats were unable to find a standard-bearer for their campaign to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator Mike DeWine. While a multitude of names were thrown into the mix, there were really only three to five people that were considered serious candidates: Congressmen Ted Strickland, Sherrod Brown, and a bit later, Tim Ryan, and to a lesser degree, State Senator Eric Fingerhut and former Attorney General Lee Fisher.
Strickland decided to run for Governor (after initially declining to run), Ryan and the others decided that the race was too uphill for their taste and the party was left without any candidates.
That all changed in August.
What happened is that there was a special election to replace the outgoing Congressman in the Ohio Second Congressional District, and the Democratic candidate, Paul Hackett, an Iraq war vet (full disclosure: I’m an Iraq vet, too, and I supported Hackett both financially and on the ground by making phone calls), caught fire, nearly winning a seat that had never elected a Democrat.
It helped that Hackett was an outsider, and was blunt and outspoken, and that his opponent, Jeanne Schmidt, was none of those things.
Fast forward a couple of months. Hackett, bowing to pressure, decides to enter the race for Senate. And just as suddenly, Sherrod Brown, who had earlier declined to run, decided that he, too, would stand for the Senate.
Now, the accusations of betrayal, most dramatically leveled by Bob Brigham of Swing State Project, are roiling the blogosphere. Hackett supporters, including one Michael Brautigam, are accusing Brown of rank disloyalty, and Brigham, who was a Brown backer rather recently , is accusing Brown of being an "untrustworthy Washington politician".
Personally, I think Dave Sirota said it best: what you’re seeing here are folks’ egos potentially ruining a golden opportunity to not only elect a Democrat, but a progressive Democrat, the kind that we’ve been wanting and asking to elect for so long.
By any measure, Sherrod Brown will not only be a good Senator, he’ll be an outstanding Senator. So what if he took too long to decide? To paraphrase Chris Bowers, politics ain’t beanbag. It’s worth mentioning that, towards the end of the campaign, Hackett was showing a rather thin skin, yelling at reporters when asked the same questions over and over.
Even more worrisome, the night before the election, while Jeanne Schmidt was hitting bowling alleys looking for votes, Hackett decided to take a bag on the campaign and attend a Springsteen concert. Hackett lost that race by only 3500 votes; it’s conceivable that, had he not gone to see the Boss, and instead done as much stumping as Schmidt did that night, he would be in Congress now.
If he did those things in a brief, six-week campaign, how is he going to hold up under the scrutiny of a brutal, statewide race that will last thirteen months? I’ve been told that Paul Wellstone did it in 1990 against Rudy Boschwitz, but it’s also worth remembering that, until the last weekend, when Boschwitz shot himself in the foot by releasing a letter that all but called Wellstone a self-hating Jew, even Wellstone and his folks thought that they had lost the race. And I say that as a Wellstone fan and a graduate of Camp Wellstone.
So, again, I think what we’re seeing here are people’s egos at stake here. And particularly one person’s ego–Bob Brigham’s, to be exact. I don’t know what exactly is motivating his hostility towards Brown here, but I suspect it’s not honor and loyalty. And that’s just too sad. We need guys like Brigham, if they’re going to be in grownup positions in politics, to act like it. And if your guy has a roadblock put in front of him, the solution isn’t to whine and cry like a three-year-old deprived of his favorite toy; it’s to demolish that roadblock.
UPDATE: I posted the following as a comment in several blogs–
Maybe I’m the only one to point this out, but so far, the only indication that we have that Brown assured Hackett face-to-face that he wouldn’t run is by Hackett’s guy. For all we know, Hackett could have asked Brown what his intentions were, and Brown could have said something along the lines of "no, not at this time". Call me stupid, but that’s an assurance, and yet it leaves the door open. If that’s what happened, and I strongly suspect that that’s what did happen, then the onus is on Hackett for jumping in.
Somehow, I have a hard time believing that Hackett and Brown met, and Brown gave Hackett a Sherman statement.*
Campaigns are a major undertaking. Brown was leading the fight against CAFTA–a major blogospheric bugbear, I might add–and planning his kid’s wedding at the same time.
You really think he should have put both or even either of those things on hold for the sake of political expediency–i.e., to announce a Senate candidacy?
Okay, but that’s pretty cold and mercenary. You can’t blame the guy for taking things one at a time. He wanted to wrap one thing up and get his family on board–y’know, the folks that are going to have to put up with the slings and arrows of a modern statewide campaign, while we sit in the metaphoric peanut gallery. I, for one, don’t blame the guy for having different priorities during the summer.
I’ve also heard mention that Brown should defer to Hackett and instead run in 2010, because he’s too liberal to win statewide. I don’t get the logic in that.
First, Brown won statewide in the ’80s, and arguably, he was just as liberal then as he is now.
Secondly, if he’s too liberal to run now, then how in the heck will he be not that liberal four years from now? You could argue that he’ll have a chance to, ahem, moderate certain positions–but then…
If that’s what folks mean, then isn’t that a little opportunistic? Isn’t that what we decry the most among the very people we support–the fact that they tack to and fro so as to catch the summer wind? And isn’t that rather, ahem, hypocritical? What, all of a sudden, when it’s us acting out of political expediency, then it’s virtuous?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with political expediency, per se, but let’s not attach noble motives to ignoble acts. Let’s call it for what it is.
If Sherrod Brown is too liberal to run statewide in Ohio, then you’re foreclosing the possibility that any genuine progressive/liberal can run statewide in the state I grew up in and win. I don’t know about you, but I’m notgoing to travel down that road.
And I’m sorry, but assuming that Paul Hackett is Paul Wellstone in BDUs isn’t the same thing, not by a long shot.
It seems to me that, lately, being starved for real victories, we’ve decided to substitute posture for policy. And they’re not the same thing at all–not by a long shot.
I can scream all day long, until the cows come home, that I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party, and that Republicans are the very scum of the earth; if my perorations aren’t followed by solid action in support of my words; if I don’t vote for and support progressive policies, then what good does my posturing do, except to make you feel good?
*A "Sherman statement" comes from William T. Sherman (the man who burnt
Atlanta in the Civil War). Years after the war, he was asked to run for
President. He responded by saying,
"If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve."
He’s also famous for saying, "War is hell", but that’s for another time. Basically, a Sherman statement is a categorical refusal to run for anything. Potential candidates historically shy away from them, because it forecloses your options; if you go back on it, you’re not a trustworthy person, and if you adhere to it, you can’t run. The most famous recent example is Lyndon Johnson in 1968, who ended a speech on the Vietnam War by saying that he wouldn’t run or serve another term as President; most people believe that that was precipitated by his perceived loss to Gene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary.
As I stated above, I don’t think Brown gave Hackett a Sherman statement; I think, rather, that Hackett mistook whatever Brown told him for that. And that makes all the difference in the world.