Thursday, August 04, 2005

Democrats celebrate narrow U.S. House loss in Ohio

Democrats celebrate narrow U.S. House loss in Ohio

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats on Wednesday celebrated a closer-than-expected loss in a special House of Representatives race in Ohio and called it a warning sign for Republicans entering the 2006 congressional elections.

But Republicans cautioned against reading too much into Jean Schmidt's narrow win over Democrat and Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, saying low turnout and local issues made the race unique and kept it from being a bellwether on Republican leadership or President Bush.

Schmidt, a former state representative, beat Hackett by 3,500 votes out of more than 112,000 cast in the conservative and heavily Republican district, where no Democrat in decades had won or even managed 40 percent of the vote.

Hackett's criticism of the Iraq war and tough attacks on Bush energized the contest to replace Rob Portman, who resigned to become U.S. trade representative after regularly rolling up 70 percent of the vote in the district.

"Every Republican in Congress should consider himself put on notice," Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said of Tuesday's results.

Hackett tried to tie Schmidt to ethics allegations against unpopular Ohio Republican Gov. Bob Taft, and Democrats hope to make ethics scandals surrounding Texas Rep. Tom DeLay and other Republicans a centerpiece of their 2006 campaign.

Democrats said the close race was a sign that scandals and dissatisfaction with the country's direction were taking a toll on Republicans.

"Americans will no longer tolerate the Republicans' continued abuses of power and catering to corporate special interests," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said.

But Republicans said the low turnout, well below the nearly 300,000 votes cast in 2004, and the races run by the two candidates skewed the results.

"Special elections are unique, they don't always reflect the district's usual results," said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the House Republican campaign committee. He said Hackett's two television advertisements featured Bush and made no mention of the fact Hackett was a Democrat.

"Hackett ran as a Republican, he never called himself a Democrat," Forti said, adding Democrats had "a long way to go" to make ethics a national issue for 2006.

Amy Walter, a House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Report, said Hackett ran a much better campaign than Schmidt and was a stronger candidate. The result, however, should give Democrats hope and make some Republicans nervous, she said.

"Republicans in Ohio should definitely be very concerned about this," Walter said, noting several incumbent Ohio Republicans, most notably Rep. Bob Ney, face potentially tough re-election races next year.

Hackett said the result should encourage Democrats nationwide.

"We have the power to win back Congress. Yesterday proved it," he said in an e-mail fund-raising pitch for Democracy for America, the group started by Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

"Yesterday, one of the reddest regions in America turned a whole lot bluer," Hackett said.