Friendly fire

The “Democratic” wing of the Democratic Party is infuriated that U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and other party leaders muscled an antiwar candidate out of the U.S. Senate race in Ohio.

Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, who made a splash last year with an unusually strong showing running as a Democrat in a normally Republican U.S. House district in Ohio, then entered the state’s U.S. Senate race against incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. He had been encouraged by Reid, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, and other party leaders. He ran after first getting assurances from Ohio’s U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown that he would not run.

Brown later changed his mind and jumped into the race. Hackett said Reid and other leaders then started pushing him to get out, perhaps to run again for the House seat. Hackett said he couldn’t do that because he had given assurances to other Democratic candidates that he would not run.

Hackett did leave the Senate race after he said party leaders pressured contributors to dry up his money.

“I made this decision reluctantly, only after repeated requests by party leaders, as well as behind-the-scenes machinations, that were intended to hurt my campaign,” he said. “For me, this is a second betrayal. First, my government misused and mismanaged the military in Iraq, and now my own party is afraid to support candidates like me.”

Liberals were outraged. Conser-vatives gloated.

Pat Robertson’s United Press International ran a story beginning, “Paul Hackett’s angry decision to withdraw from the Senate race in Ohio is a devastating blow for the Democratic Party.” It predicted that the most passionate elements in the Democratic Party will start a third party. “And that could cripple the Democrats’ hopes, and even expectations of regaining the White House in 2008.” “More proof the Demos do not like the military. They were just using him until something better came along.”

Rush Limbaugh said, “And don’t forget, Sherrod Brown is black. There’s a racial component here, too.” He didn’t say what that component was or meant—not that it mattered, since Brown is white.

Liberal activists whose ties to the Democratic Party have been strained by its increasingly conservative tone were furious. Reid, who has made a point of cultivating the blogosphere, was hit with a wave of online hostility. On the liberal Daily Kos web site, which has become something of a Reid fan site, one person posted the message, “I can’t fucking believe this.” Another added, “Sherrod Brown better win this.” And one person taunted Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who runs the site and has defended Reid in the past: “Hey, Kos, so much for the ‘Fighting Dem’ strategy, eh?”

Moulitsas Zúniga replied, “Howard Dean got the full brunt of the establishment’s ire, yet he didn’t take his ball and go home when he lost. There are two many crucial races in the country for people to … worry about the guy who dropped out.”

On the Web page American Chronicle, Steve Hammons wrote, “It might be a blessing in disguise that … Hackett was recently backstabbed by some leaders in the Democratic Party in his run for a U.S. Senate seat from Ohio. Why? Because, to understate the case, neither the Democratic Party nor Republican Party seem to be serving the people of the United States as well as they could. This, too, might be a blessing because maybe it is now time for a legitimate centrist third party to be formed to take back our government from polarized politics, special interests, corrupt lobbyists and some of the worst elements of American society.”

Mother Jones magazine posted this story: “In late November, Hackett got a call from Sen. Harry Reid. ‘I hear there’s a photo of you mistreating bodies in Iraq. Is it true?’ demanded the Senate minority leader. ‘No sir,’ replied Hackett. To drive home his point, Hackett traveled to Washington to show Reid’s staff the photo in question. Hackett declined to send me the photo, but he insists that it shows another Marine—not Hackett—unloading a sealed body bag from a truck. ‘There was nothing disrespectful or unprofessional,’ he insists. ‘That was a photo of a Marine doing his job. If you don’t like what they’re doing, don’t send Marines into war.’ A staffer in Reid’s office confirmed that Hackett had showed them several photos. … ‘The one picture in question depicted Marines doing their work on what looked like a scorching day in Iraq,’ said the aide.”

Veterans were also taken aback by the situation.

“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,” Mike Lyon, executive director for the Band of Brothers (a group that encourages Democratic veterans to run for office), told the New York Times. “Now is a time for Democrats to be courting, not blocking, veterans who want to run.” After the Mother Jones report appeared, one blog asked, “Is Harry Reid a swiftboating asshole?”

One professional analyst considered the Reid move a disgrace. Former Washington Week in Review moderator Ken Bode of DePauw University wrote in his newspaper column, “The disgraceful actions of Reid, Schumer and the Ohio Democratic establishment indicate their commitment to politics as usual and their belief that 2006 will be an insider’s year. What they owed Hackett in return for his courage and his service was, at least, their neutrality. They owed it to him to keep their grubby hands off and let him run a fair race.”