Brown vs. Hackett: The X-Factor

You’ve heard all kinds of bloviating with respect to the Ohio Senate race–how Hackett (who announced his candidacy today at his home near Cincinnati) will do better in the general election because he’ll attract more swing voters; how Brown is a progressive champion, who was progressive before being progressive was cool.

But in all that, two factors have been lost.

1. Sen. DeWine only looks vulnerable. Just about every internal poll I’ve seen on this race shows his numbers are soft because of conservative desertions, not because he’s unlikable. Only 60%-75% of Republicans support him, compared with consistent numbers around 80% for the President, who’s hasn’t been doing himself any favors lately.*

This really becomes a factor if he faces a competitive primary–which he might. Former Rep. Bob McEwen (the kind of oleaginous politician-on-the-make you just love to see lose) has been nosing around, trying to see what kind of support he can muster from the far right in a race against DeWine–who’s no hero to the wingers, what with his participation in the Senate’s “Gang of 14” (something that almost assuredly help derail his son’s bid for Congress), and his opposition to gun rights legislation.

McEwen came oh, so close, to winning the Ohio 2nd GOP primary, and every sign points to his not having lost the fire in the belly**. If he decides to challenge DeWine, it’s not clear who would win. My guess is that DeWine would win by the narrowest of margins, but who knows? The folks McEwen are courting are *really* committed, and they’re the same kind of people that Blackwell is courting. Should they turn out in force for Blackwell, they may well decide to do the same for McEwen. If that happens, DeWine could be facing the same kind of storm that Arlen Specter barely survived last year in Pennsylvania.

All this assumes that McEwen runs, of course. He may. He may not. But it’s a bit early to rule that out***. If he doesn’t, it’s fairly safe to assume that either they reluctantly come back to the fold, and support DeWine, or they simply take a walk on this one. Either way, neither Hackett nor Brown is going to win those voters, and claims by Hackett’s supporters in the internets that they’ll vote for him are ludicrous. The only way Hackett wins those votes is by running to the *right* of DeWine, and Hackett, in his latest interview with Salon, has nixed that****.

2. Nobody–I mean, nobody*****–is taking Issue 4 (part of the Reform Ohio Now package of referenda) into consideration. And believe me, that’s driving and is going to drive a lot of political decisions over the next few months.

Issue 4 basically states that Ohio’s 18 Congressional districts will be redrawn–within reason and legal compliance–so as to become competitive. That means that 16 districts will be up for grabs, more-or-less. The two exceptions: OH-11, which is Stephanie Tubbs Jones’ district, and was drawn with the Voting Rights Act in mind, and a GOP counterpart, which my gut tells me will likely be OH-2. Everything else will be redrawn, if it passes–and immediately.

This means that most of the incumbents will be facing voters that they’ve never represented, and more to the point, wouldn’t necessarily vote for them. So Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur, for example, will face more Bush voters, while folks like Deborah Pryce and Pat Tiberi will face more Kerry voters. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if that was a huge part of the calculation for Brown.

Rumor has it that Brown was going to run for re-election in ’06 and ’08, using that last campaign to really build a war chest so as to run for Senate in 2010, for what’s likely to be an open seat, since Sen. George Voinovich will likely retire after this term. But faced with the prospect of having a newly-redrawn district after this year’s elections, and having to suddenly to run for re-election in a district whose voters were fairly unknown to him, he chose to run for the Senate instead–if he’s got to plead his case before folks who are new to him, he might as well do it on a statewide level.

That calculation has also likely already taken effect in the OH-15, which is represented by the 4th-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives (Deb Pryce). Mary Jo Kilroy, one of the Democratic County Commissioners in Franklin County (which makes up 87% of the voting public in OH-15), has decided to run for Congress. It doesn’t matter that attorney Mark Losey was already running; the perception was that he was the designated sacrificial lamb, but now that the tide seems to be clearly turning against the GOP, both in Ohio and across the nation, that perception is null and void. My guess is that Kilroy, like Brown in the Senate race, will receive the establishment support and the establishment funds.

The same thing might happen in the OH-12, which is the other Columbus-area district (Full disclosure: it used to be my old district, back when John Kasich was in Congress). All signs point to Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman ending his race for Governor, due to family issues******. If that happens, there’s an outside chance that he could instead run for Congress against Pat Tiberi, who’s distinguished himself by being one of the most eminently hackish Congressmen in a chamber rife with them.

All that to say, there’s lots more to the Ohio Senate race roiling under the surface, and that might prove to be far, far more interesting.

Notes:

*His standing among Republicans/conservatives is practically the only thing keeping him in the high 30s/low 40s when it comes to job approval. If that craters, it’s not out of the question for his job approval to slide into the 20s in terms of percentage. That’s a standard that’s been plumbed by only two other Presidents: Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. But for all intents and purposes, the Bush presidency is at an end–a scarce 12 months after his lease on the office was renewed.

**Actually, he never lost it. McEwen served as Congressman for a few years in the ’80s. His district was combined after the 1990 census with another Congressman’s (Clarence Miller); he beat Miller in the primary by something like 300 votes, only to lose to Ted Strickland in the general election. McEwen then ran in 1993 in the Ohio 2nd to fill that seat after the incumbent vacated it, and lost to Rob Portman. The big strike on McEwen is that he’s always been seen as being far too ambitious and slick for his own good–Ohioans don’t like their politicians to be overweening with personal ambition.

***Here’s a strong (though circumstantial) sign that he is considering running for Senate. The site’s using Dreamweaver, and all in all, it doesn’t look like the kind of thing someone would do on a whim.

****It actually is quite an interview. Hackett did his “plain-talking” pose, and really went at some issues hammer and tongs–he even compared Christian fundamentalists to Osama ibn Laden! Like I said, this is the kind of red meat that will have folks in the blogosphere salivating, but will likely cause religiously-oriented voters to utterly shun him, and work overtime to knock him off, should he win the primary.

*****Actually, I found out Michael Meckler has brought that up. My hat tip to him.

******Full disclosure: I know the Colemans’ personally, having gone to school with their sons, and having worked professionally with them.

The personal problems? The Mayor’s wife, Frankie, was charged with a DUI. Apparently, she blew a .271–almost three times the legal limit. The belief is that if that if there’s some kind of problem there, Mr. Coleman’s going to have to devote his attention to it, which will prevent him from devoting his attention otherwise. Knowing him, he’ll devote his attention to his wife, and that will force him to withdraw from the Governor’s race. But if the districts get redrawn, then that opens up an opportunity for Mayor Coleman to run for Congress, since that will be a friendlier district for Democrats. And campaigning in Granville, let’s say, isn’t the same as campaigning in Toledo–Granville, for example, is only 30 minutes away from his house, and is at the far end of the district.

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