There’s a glimmer of hope for Democrats in Ohio.
In the Second Congressional District of Ohio, which Republicans have controlled for the last two decades, the quickest route to political oblivion could be the one chosen by Paul L. Hackett: calling President Bush a “chicken hawk” for not serving in Vietnam and harshly criticizing the decision to invade Iraq.
But Mr. Hackett, the Democratic candidate in the Aug. 2 special Congressional election, is not an ordinary politician. Until four months ago, he was serving in the Marines, commanding a civil affairs unit in Iraq.
If Mr. Hackett is elected, he will become the first member of Congress to have served in the Iraq war. That alone has helped Mr. Hackett, a 43-year-old lawyer, unexpectedly turn this potential walkover into a sharply contested race.
“When you tell people he just got back from Iraq, they stop and listen,” said Timothy Burke, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Hamilton County, one of seven southern Ohio counties in the district. “He’d not have nearly as many people paying attention to him if it weren’t for that initial grabber.”
Mr. Hackett’s Republican opponent, Jean Schmidt, has poured more than $200,000 of her own money into her campaign and traveled tirelessly across the district. Her campaign has received tens of thousands of dollars from national Republican committees, and Mr. Bush has agreed to record a telephone message that will be delivered the weekend before the special election.
“I’m a runner, and when you are overconfident, that’s when you see your competition’s shadow,” said Ms. Schmidt, 53, who has completed 54 marathons. “And I won’t see his.”
The candidates are competing to fill the seat held for 12 years by Rob Portman, who resigned to become Mr. Bush’s trade representative. Mr. Portman routinely won the district, which stretches from poverty-stricken communities along the Ohio River to affluent Cincinnati suburbs, with more than 70 percent of the vote.
The Democrats initially ignored the race, thinking that there was no chance that a Democrat could win there. But Hackett has attracted some big guns, including former Senator Max Cleland and James Carville, and the woes of the Ohio Republicans, including the Coingate scandal, have made this a race that could be a real surprise for all concerned.