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Parties Weigh In on Heated Special

The special election in Ohio’s 2nd district will be decided Tuesday, with former state Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) still positioned to pull out a closer-than-expected victory in the race to fill the vacancy created by the ascension of Rob Portman (R) to U.S. Trade Representative.

But the race has hardly been the cake walk that prognosticators predicted for Schmidt in this heavily-GOP suburban Cincinnati district, as a mix of factors — including the disarray enveloping the state Republican Party — helped create a once inconceivable opening for Democrats.

In tomorrow’s balloting Schmidt, 53, faces Marine reservist Paul Hackett (D), an Iraq War veteran who has received considerable attention from the national press and from party activists in recent weeks.

The final week of the campaign has been marked by a barrage of negative advertising from all sides.

Hackett, Schmidt and their surrogates went up with television ads in the Cincinnati market last week. Heading into the final weekend, both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were expected to also be on the air in the Huntington, W.Va., market, which covers the eastern extremities of the district.

The DCCC began airing an ad attacking Schmidt on Friday, highlighting Schmidt’s previous support for a tax increase and seeking to tie the former state lawmaker to Gov. Bob Taft (R), whose unfavorability ratings are at an all-time high amid scandal and corruption charges against his administration.

“Taft and Schmidt, they’re not a law firm; they’re the team that delivered the largest tax increase in Ohio history,” an announcer says in the ad as “Pop Goes the Weasel” plays in the background.

The ad continues: “Like Taft, Schmidt has been hit on ethics. She for taking gifts and meals from a Columbus lobbyist. Taft and Schmidt, when it comes to fighting for taxpayers, they have no case.”

The estimated $200,000 ad buy marks the first independent expenditure the DCCC has made on Hackett’s behalf.

“We are up on TV and we are standing with Paul Hackett because he stood with the United States in battle,” said DCCC spokesman Bill Burton.

Hackett began airing a similar 30-second spot on Wednesday.

“For once, a real choice, between a Marine ready to fight again for our families in Washington, and Jean Schmidt, another career politician in the mold of Bob Taft,” the announcer says in the ad. “She’ll take Columbus’ corruption to Washington.”

That ad prompted the NRCC to step in on Schmidt’s behalf, although Republican strategists said they remain confident she will be victorious.

“She’s going to win,” NRCC spokesman Carl Forti predicted confidently on Friday.

On Thursday, the committee began airing $265,000 worth of ads attacking Hackett for allegedly raising taxes when he served on the Milford City Council. The buy will remain on the air through Tuesday’s election. The NRCC also paid for direct mail pieces that carry the same message.

“He called the President a son of a bitch and we decided to bury him,” Forti said, explaining the decision to go negative on Hackett. “I think that pretty much sums up our sentiment over here.”

Forti was referring to an article that appeared in USA Today Thursday quoting Hackett as saying: “I’ve said that I don’t like the son of a bitch that lives in the White House but I’d put my life on the line for him.”

Hackett, 43, a lawyer and Major in the Marine Reserves who finished a seven-month tour in Iraq in March, was honorably discharged in 1999 but re-enlisted in 2004.

Hackett’s campaign estimated that they would have close to 1,000 volunteers going door-to-door over the weekend.

Former Sens. John Glenn (D-Ohio) and Max Cleland (D-Ga.) were scheduled to campaign for Hackett Sunday, while retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2004, is expected to make an appearance in the district today. This is the second appearance for Cleland, a triple amputee and Vietnam veteran.

At least two of Hackett’s campaign commercials have opened with President Bush speaking at Fort Bragg, N.C., in late June, telling a prime-time television audience that “there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces.”

Last week, the Republican National Committee sent Hackett a letter asking the Marine to stop airing the “misleading” ads that feature Bush, who won 64 percent of the vote in the district last year.

“The manner in which your advertisement incorporates President Bush is clearly intended to create the false impression that the President has endorsed your candidacy,” RNC Chief Counsel Thomas Josefiak wrote in the July 27 letter to Hackett, adding that Bush supports Schmidt in the contest. “Although we, along with all Americans, appreciate and are grateful for your military service, in the spirit of fairness and accuracy, I ask you to cease and desist from distributing the advertisement in question.”

National money has also flowed to both candidates in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Hackett’s pre-general fundraising report showed that between May 26 and July 13, he raised $155,000, after beginning the period with just $20,000 in his campaign account. Since then he has raised at least an additional $81,000, including $10,000 from the DCCC and $2,000 from Democracy for America, the organization founded by Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. He showed $62,000 in available cash as of mid-July.

Schmidt, meanwhile, raised $359,000 from May 26 through July 13 and since then she has raised at least an additional $100,000, including a $1,000 donation from Portman on July 25. She had $157,000 left in reserve in mid-July.

Schmidt emerged from a crowded and contentious June primary, during which she was demonized in TV ads for voting in favor of tax increases while in the state Legislature. The ads were paid for by the conservative, anti-tax Club for Growth.

Meanwhile, an unlikely coalition has teamed up to run radio ads urging voters to stay home tomorrow rather than vote for Schmidt, alleging she’ll support tax increases in Congress.

Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, which has traditionally supported Republicans, is using money provided by Frontier PAC, a Portland, Ore., organization that usually backs Democrats, to run the ads.

Schmidt edged out former Rep. Bob McEwen (R), who was attempting a political comeback after a decade out of Congress, in the June 14 primary. Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine (R), the early frontrunner and son of Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), placed a distant fourth in the race.

One Republican strategist noted that the Club for Growth ads still lingered with some of the district’s GOP voters.

“The Club for Growth ads hurt her, in terms of Republican intensity,” the strategist said, noting that turnout in tomorrow’s special is expected to be extremely light.

The winner of the contest will not be sworn-in until the House returns to work in September.