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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

OH-02: Mother Jones Cover Story on Paul Hackett

I was mentioned a few times in David Goodman's great story on the Ohio 2nd Special Election: The Democrat Who Fought

IN THE FINAL WEEK of the campaign, the big guns arrived in southern Ohio. The Republican National Committee dispatched staff from Washington to shore up Schmidt’s faltering bid, and the National Republican Congressional Committee swamped the airwaves with a half-million dollars’ worth of attack ads accusing Hackett of, among other things, supporting higher taxes when he was on the Milford City Council.

Hackett had his own secret weapon, though. With a conspiratorial flourish, he ushered me into the Goldminer’s Inn, a dive around the corner from campaign headquarters and the lair of what he called “the insurgents.” Huddled in a smoky corner were Bob Brigham and Tim Tagaris of Swing State Project and Matt DeBergalis of the liberal fundraising website They had come from California, Massachusetts, and northern Ohio armed with laptops, cellular modems, and digital cameras, their weapons of choice in rallying the online troops.

The bloggers were cocky about what the netroots—the online version of the grassroots—could deliver. Brigham, a tall, skinny 27-year-old software designer clad in well-worn low-slung jeans declared, “We can move people, money, and message, and do it 24/7. We’re non-state actors, and this is postmodern politics.” His dispatches from the candidate’s living room, his car, and from the bar were posted by his and other widely read blogs such as Daily Kos and MyDD; in all, he said, more than 50 bloggers had helped raise money and turn out volunteers for Hackett.

The insurgents delivered big time: They out-fundraised the national Democratic Party, hauling in some $500,000 of the campaign’s $850,000 total, with nearly 9,000 people giving an average of $50 each. In a show of blogforce on the campaign’s last day, Swing State Project put out the word at 10:30 a.m. that Hackett needed $30,000 for get-out-the-vote operations. Six hours later, $60,000 had poured in and Brigham had to tell people to stop giving.

The next story demonstrates progress in the Democratic Party:

The insurgents are unmoved. Brigham invokes DNC Chairman Howard Dean’s 50-State Strategy: “You gotta fight everywhere to win anywhere.” They point out that between 2000 and 2004, more than a quarter of House seats were unchallenged or only lightly contested by Democrats. Jerome Armstrong, who runs the popular MyDD blog, wrote on, “Paul Hackett was the first step in resuscitating the party after the 2004 defeat.… Let’s run 232 Hackett-like operations against the Republicans in the elections of 2006, and plenty of swing-district wins will walk out of the wilderness on Election Day.” (In early August, DCCC chairman Rahm Emanuel announced that in 2006, the committee will double the number of Democratic challengers it funds—to about 50, out of 231 Republican-held seats nationwide.)

On the night I visited the Goldminer’s Inn the bloggers were in high dudgeon. Alternating swigs of beer and draws on his cigarette, the frenetic Brigham insisted, “I support fighting Democrats who aren’t ashamed to be Democrats and who aren’t members of the DLC,” the Democratic Leadership Council that is the ideological home of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman. Hackett, listening in, piped up, “What’s the DLC?”

That same night, Hillary Clinton and the DLC were in Ohio. But it wasn't because they were helping, or even aware, of the biggest race in the state. They were busy with business as usual while we were changing the narrative of the midterm election cycle and proving that by ignoring their advice Democrats can be competitive anywhere in America.

-By Bob Brigham

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