Although the president's low approval ratings, combined with 12 years of Republican rule of Congress, might otherwise be occasion for a Democratic tide in 2006, there are disturbing omens emenating from the campaign trail.
First, Paul Hackett is not only dropping out of the Ohio Senate race, machinations by Congressional Democratic campaign chairs behind the scenes for him to so has soured him on the party and any campaigns at least this year. Kos seems to think Hackett over-reached by going for the Senate instead of a House rematch with Jean Schmidt, and consequently, is eager to pass this off as much ado about nothing. I don't buy it. Neither do Steve Gilliard, the Alt Hippo, or Atrios, among others.
From everything I've seen of Hackett, he's the kind of bold candidate Democrats have been sorely lacking for the last several decades. Maybe Sherrod Brown, a traditionally liberal Democrat from the House, will be enough to beat DeWine. Perhaps. But the damage done by alienating Hackett and other potential candidates of his nature and background, could be substantial and long-lasting regardless of the short term outcome in this race.
But I'm afraid it gets worse.
Consider the role, surprisingly, of race. Republicans have essentially nominated one black gubernatorial candidate (and a well-known one) already in PA, and are apparently poised to add another in Ohio. What's more, the Republicans have at least one Senatorial candidate in Maryland, and maybe another in Michigan. Steve Gilliard, whose opinion on these matters I trust a great deal, is pretty dismissive of how these black GOP candidates will play, not only with black voters but with white, conservative ones as well. While I hope he's right, the fact that the Republicans are prepared to lead with black candidates in four different states at two important levels of government should give Democrats pause for concern.
How are the Democrats responding? The only black Democrat running for high office that I can think of is Kwasi Mfume for the U.S. Maryland seat, and by most indications, he's lagging behind the presumed front runner, congressman Ben Cardin, who's about as bland as the man he's vying to replace, and that's saying something. If Cardin outduels Mfume in the primary, than so be it.
But what efforts are Democrats making to cross their own cultural and demographic divide in reaching out to new voters, like military vets? Torpedoing Hackett's candidacy was not a step in the right direction.
Chuck Schumer has done well making money for the Senate Campaign Committee. And if former Secretary of the Navy James Webb ultimately runs against George Allen for the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia, it could be a major coup for the party. But Webb's potential candidacy aside, Democrats face tough campaigns just to HOLD Senate seats in 2006 in places like Maryland and New Jersey.
Meanwhile, Democratic gains in PA and Montana appear promising, while states like Missouri and Rhode Island (the latter of which should ordinarily be a lock) are in play for now.
Other states, unfortunately, like Nevada and Indiana, might not have a competitive Democrat running.
So while nothing ever goes as planned, the party goofed bit time in Ohio. Given the disasterous position of the Republican Party in that state, it would be the height of misfortune not to capitalize on it this year, and with their actions in the case of Paul Hackett, Senate Democrats have given Republicans a life line.
Update: a Hackett partisan, Lindsay Beyerstein, points out that Hackett was trailing Brown in the polls and falling behind in fundraising, so maybe this was inevitable in the primary context. In addition, Hackett's "I'll take my football and go home" bit was probably not the wisest course of action. Still Lindsay is optimistic Hackett we'll be back (and hopefully still on our side). As she says, "we need him".