August 2, 2005


The Making Of Something Special In Ohio-02 (Charlie Cook, Aug. 2, 2005, National Journal)

It's obvious why the national party committees hate special elections. They are volatile, unpredictable and take place outside the natural campaign rhythm -- often forcing committees to make campaign spending decisions long before they'd like. With nothing else on the ballot, voter turnout is often abysmally low, making polling particularly unreliable as it's extremely difficult to gauge just how tight to screen for likely voters. As a result, upsets are not that uncommon in special elections, and sometimes these elections can be harbingers of what's to come in the next election.

Special elections in 1993 and early 1994, for example, gave us a sneak preview of the storm clouds Democrats were headed for down the road.

In Kentucky's 2nd District, Republican Ron Lewis easily won a special election in May of 1994 to replace longtime popular Democrat Bill Natcher -- an early sign of the beating Democrats were going to take that November in southern districts across the country.

In Wisconsin, a special election in May of 1993 to replace popular Democratic Rep. Les Aspin -- who had been tapped by President Clinton to serve as secretary of Defense -- proved to be a political canary-in-a-coal-mine as well. Democrat Peter Barca beat Republican Mark Neumann by just 675 votes in a district that Aspin had easily carried for 23 years. Just a few months earlier, Aspin had crushed Neumann with 58 percent of the vote. In 1994, Neumann beat Barca by 1,120 votes.

The special election for the record books was in February 1974 in Michigan's 5th District to replace Minority Leader Gerald Ford, who had just been named vice president to replace Spiro Agnew. The 5th was as Republican (and Dutch) a district as they come, so state Sen. Robert Vanderlaan (R) was expected to easily dispatch Democrat Richard Vanderveen. But the Democrat pulled off the upset of the decade, winning 51 percent to 44 percent in a district that President Nixon had won just 15 months earlier with 61 percent. That election was a signal that the Watergate constellation of issues was so radioactive that it could beat a perfectly respectable Republican candidate even in a rock-ribbed GOP district like this one.

Will today's special election in Ohio's 2nd District be that crystal ball for 2006?

Republican defeats Iraq war veteran to win election in Ohio (WALB, 8/02/05)
A resume that includes military service in Iraq and harsh attacks on President Bush wasn't enough to land Paul Hackett on Capitol Hill.

The Iraq war veteran has narrowly lost a bid to win a special congressional election in Ohio.

Republican Jean Schmidt has scored a win over Hackett and will replace Rob Portman, who left Congress this year after being named U-S trade representative.

There was never any chance that Democrats would win what's one of the most Republican seats in Congress, but because the guy was so critical of the President and the War they convinced themselves he'd pull off an upset, turning a routine loss into yet another body blow. Bolton yesterday, Hackett today...can't wait for Wednesday...

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 2, 2005 11:56 PM

The Ds continue to believe that everyone hates Bush as much as they do. If Hackett wanted to win, he would have praised the President. Instead he wanted to keep the D faithful happy.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 3, 2005 12:19 AM

This one almost did fly under the radar, and really received no national attention until late polls showed Hackett had a chance to win, and the race in a matter of 48 hours became a bellweather about the national feelings towards the Bush administration.

Since turnout was above what had been predicted, all the sudden national press attention may actually have been a blessing for the GOP, since it made the race far more of a high-profile election than it appeared to be before this past weekend, and also alerted more people in the heavily-Republican district to Hackett's Howard Dean-like comments about Bush, as opposed to the pro-military/pro-gun image he was trying to present. If the national press had stayed away, apathy might have given Hackett a chance to sneak past Schmidt before enough voters found out what he was saying outside of his set campaign material.

Posted by: John at August 3, 2005 12:20 AM

And Rush alerted the faithful today which probably caused some folks to vote who might not have otherwise bothered.

Posted by: obc at August 3, 2005 12:32 AM

Districts that tilt so heavily GOP don't generally experience inverted turnout.

Posted by: oj at August 3, 2005 12:33 AM

What a shame -- the Democrats lose again.

Posted by: jd watson at August 3, 2005 4:20 AM

Turnout apparently was around 24 percent for the election, in the normal range for primary elections, which tend to attract the true believers more than the casual voter. And while there a lot of things you can criticize the types for, they are passionate to the point of fanatacism, making them "Broken Glass Democrats" for whatever election is at hand.

District 2 in Ohio may have been too much of a hill to overcome with is demographic make-up, but it's a good wake-up call for both the state and national Republican Party for the 2006 election in more competative districts -- the MoveOn types are not going to give up trying to regain control in Washington and at the state level, and if the GOP base gets apathetic and isn't given a reason to come out and vote, Democrats can regain lost ground in the run-up to the 2008 election.

Posted by: John at August 3, 2005 8:32 AM

It is just too hard to read the tea leaves in a special election after a long term incumbent leaves. Did Hackett do well because he was an Iraq vet? Does the state GOP coin scandal play a large role? Did the DNC cash this time (as compared to 2004) make a difference? It could be a referendum on Iraq but maybe it wasn't. There are just too many factors.

Hackett would do well to switch gears and run for another office, perhaps state senator or state rep in the more Dem part of the district. He is not likely to do better in 2006. In fact, he is likely to do worse. This was his shot in that district, all the factors (Iraq vet, money, realatively unknown opponent, large GOP primary) were in his favor and he could not win.

Posted by: Bob at August 3, 2005 9:51 AM

Hackett's defeat saves all of us from having to hear nonstop blather about this election for the next few weeks. The whole episode will now be flushed down the nearest media memory hole rather than serve as a portent of impending GOP doom.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at August 3, 2005 10:05 AM

Can anyone imagine Democrats of the past running ads which open with Nixon or Reagan speaking positively about American values and power?

What will we see in 2008 - Hillary running ads where President Bush commends the growth of freedom in the world and the economic strength we have at home?

They are insane.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 3, 2005 10:06 AM

"I hate him - that shrimpyshrubchimpyMcBushitlergoldstein - but I want everyone to think he endorsed me".

Wotta way to run a campaign.

Posted by: ratbert at August 3, 2005 3:30 PM

In reality, all politics is local. In the media, all politics is national. I was born and grew up in Ohio's 2d Cong. Dist. Here is what is really going on: a discontented party because of the Governor and higher taxes. That, and personality, is why it was close.

Here's why it won't matter: Next election the Republicans will have an exciting gubernatorial candidate to rally discontented voters.

Posted by: Kevin Bowman at August 3, 2005 3:57 PM