Republican Jean Schmidt (52%) narrowly defeated Democrat Paul Hackett (48%) for the OH-02 Congressional seat. In a district that ordinarily votes 70% GOP from the top of the ticket down, Hackett’s strong showing at the polls is truly extraordinary. So, how well does Hackett’s strong showing bode for Democratic gains in ’06? Is this race a harbinger of a blue tide in ’06, or was this race a once-in-a-blue-moon convergence of factors?
Political observers love special and off-year elections. They often serve as bellwethers of the national mood, and provide clues as to how the parties will fare in the on-year Congressional and Presidential races. As for the OH-02 race as a barometer of the national mood and a harbinger of the ’06 results, prominent political observer Charlie Cook had this to say:
If Schmidt’s victory margin is in double digits, this tells us that there is not much of an anti-GOP wind in Ohio right now. If the margin is say six to nine points for Schmidt, then there is a wind, but certainly no hurricane. A Schmidt win of less than five points should be a very serious warning sign for Ohio Republicans that something is very, very wrong, while a Hackett victory would be a devastating blow to the Ohio GOP.
Schmidt won by a little less than four points, indicating the Democrats are poised to pick up seats next Fall.
Still, there are some very specific circumstances that helped Hackett achieve such an unexpectedly strong showing. The Ohio GOP has been rocked by corruption scandals, most notably “Coingate.” Jean Schmidt has close ties to Coingate’s most prominent offenders, and the Hackett campaign never ceased to hammer Schmidt about it. The Hackett campaign received incredible donor and volunteer support from the “netroots” to the tune of roughly $400,000 and canvassers from around the country. (Though it should be noted that the Schmidt campaign’s spending was roughly $1 million and very well organized on the ground.) The influx of cash and volunteers for Hackett seemed to catch the Schmidt campaign flat-footed. Finally though equally importantly, Paul Hackett’s recent service in Iraq lended him a current credibility few ordinary candidates would ever have, let alone deserve. No doubt these factors would be hard to repeat in 200+ congressional districts.
But certain factors in the OH-02 race do suggest broader, more national trends. The “culture of corruption” in Ohio that Hackett ran against easily translates to the national scene. GOP Congressional leaders such as Tom Delay and prominent White House figures such as Karl Rove remind the public every day of Washington Republican corruption. While Hackett did not advocate an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, he constantly criticized the war as a mistake, and spared no words in blaming Bush and the GOP Congress for it. (He even famously called Bush a “son of a bitch!”) National polls show most people are now thinking the war was a mistake, and Bush’s approval ratings seem static in the low 40’s. 48% of OH-02 were ready to buck the GOP establishment in a 70% GOP district. If this doesn’t indicate a larger anti-establishment mood, I’m not sure what does.
So, if the Democrats want to pick up seats in ’06, OH-02 provides them a partial blueprint for success: Run strongly against establishment corruption, run strongly against the GOP botching the war, and run strongly against the President. Be anti-establishment.
Cross-posted at my weblog. Care to take the poll?