TIME mags Klein chimes in on Hackett / Brown primary
TIME Magazine Joe Klein makes stop in Ohio, chimes in on 06 election: It's Easy to Be Hard and Hard to Be Smart
In a Democratic Congressional primary that could have implications for the mid-term elections this Fall, an amateur's bluster squares off against an old political pro
By JOE KLEIN
"The republican party has been hijacked by religious fanatics that, in my opinion, aren't a whole lot different than Osama bin Laden and a lot of other religious nuts around the world," said Paul Hackett, a recent Iraq-war combat veteran who is running for the U.S. Senate from Ohio. As you may have surmised, Hackett is a Democrat, and his statement, to the Columbus Dispatch, raised an immediate call by the Ohio G.O.P. for an apology. "I said it," Hackett replied. "I meant it. I stand by it." In fact, he has taken to repeating it at every stop along the campaign trail.
Which sent me hurtling to Ohio last week to check out the first hot contest of the 2006 election, the primary election between Hackett and a traditional lunch-pail-liberal Congressman named Sherrod Brown, which will be decided in a May 2 vote. The winner will meet incumbent Republican Senator Mike DeWine in the fall. It is a race with national implications—winning Ohio has become the holy grail for Democrats—but it also raises an interesting stylistic question for both parties: Is this one of those "outsider" years when the public rises up and cleans out the Congress? Hackett is, flagrantly, an amateur; Brown first ran for office soon after graduating from Yale in 1974, and he has been running ever since.
I caught up with Hackett—a tall, Hollywood-handsome sort—as he strode into a wings joint just outside Marion. At 43, he is a successful lawyer whose Marine reserve unit was deposited in the toughest part of Iraq, Ramadi and later Fallujah, in August 2004. When he arrived home—indeed, as he was embracing his wife—his best friend told him that the local congressional seat was open and that he should run for it. He did, lost well to the heavily favored Republican Jean Schmidt and received lots of positive national attention. With hardly a breath, he turned around and began his Senate campaign, after some prodding from the national-party hierarchy.
At the wings joint, he approached a small crowd of potential supporters with a combative abrasiveness that made Howard Dean seem like Mister Rogers. "I'm a strong Democrat from the great state of Ohio and damned proud of it," he thundered. "What does the Democratic Party stand for? Limited government. Strong national defense. Fair trade. Fiscal responsibility." Limited government? That was the fun part: "I don't want to send someone to Washington to invade my private life, control what goes on in my kid's school, get involved in the decisions made by my wife and her physician or to find out how many guns there are in Hackett's gun safe." He paused, looking for a reaction from any wussified, gun-hating Dems in the crowd. Finding none, he seemed lost. He didn't rise to his preferred state of indignation until the question period, when he was asked about Iraq. "The war is over. Bring 'em home. The war on terrorism is a war of ideas. We have a saying in the Marines: It's easy to be hard and hard to be smart."
Actually, Hackett's campaign is a vivid demonstration of that old Marine saying. His next stop was a meeting of College Democrats at the University of Toledo—earnest young people who seemed omegas to Hackett's very alpha alpha—and he got into their faces early and often. He said gun control was his big difference with Brown, but it was hard to tell: Hackett had only a vague familiarity with most of the other issues. He was stumped by illegal immigration and came up with a crude prescription: "Send 'em back if we can afford it." In the end, Hackett seemed something new under the sun: a blogger candidate—all attitude, all opinions, very little information. Sherrod Brown is not exactly a shrinking violet. He is a defiant opponent of free trade and a defender of blue-collar unionism.
"Anyone who calls me a demagogue on trade knows about one-tenth as much about trade as I do," he said as we wandered through southern Ohio. I joked that he was more an "ambulatory anachronism" than a demagogue, which occasioned a passionate blast against media elitists like me and a terrific argument about trade. What can I say? We really hit it off. Brown was quite the opposite of Hackett on the stump: he asked people questions about their lives, listened carefully to their answers—and answered their questions, about unsexy issues like the Medicare prescription-drug plan, in detail and with respect. Many of those people were unemployed or about to be. There was a real intimacy with the candidate, whom they called Sherrod. It was the most basic sort of politics—an unintended reproach to political professionals who tend to fall for flashy war heroes, and to flashy war heroes who insult the public by thinking they can run for office without taking the issues seriously in a dead-serious time.
Well - Klein definitely favors Sherrod Browns substance and experience. But - don't discount flash and soundbites unfortunately - these alone can easily win you a race. Also a few pro-gun, anti-immigration stances will most likely play well in the red counties. (Heck, - they don't even sound half bad to me.) They won't however, win my 87 yr old nana over - she still favorably remembers a phone call from Sherrod from probably 20 years ago. She reminisced on "what a nice gentlemen he was" and how "he listened and responded to all of her concerns". Are there enough people like my Nana and will it be enough to turn the red counties? Is Hacketts boldness enough to redefine the Ohio Democrats and help them identify with mods and independents? I guess, those are the million dollar questions.
Me? Well, I still think it is too early to jump in and make a decision. They are both good candidates. They both should make good senators. I do wonder which style will more effectively beat DeWine and set that winning pace for future Democrats.
Having a blog may make one feel compelled to jump into one court or another to make a statement but - I know, I just need to see this thing out a little further before I can make a good decision. So - for now - count HeightsMom as still undecided.
Tags:[Hackett], [Brown], [Ohio], [primary election]