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Schmidt Ekes Out Narrow Win in Ohio’s 2nd District

Former Ohio state Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) pulled out a narrow victory Tuesday in the special election to succeed now-U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman (R) in the suburban Cincinnati 2nd district.

While Republicans praised Schmidt for an “impressive” victory, Democrats wasted little time in framing her slim 52 percent to 48 percent win over Marine Reservist Paul Hackett (D) as a result bearing implications reaching far beyond the overwhelmingly GOP seat.

“I congratulate Jean Schmidt on her impressive victory and for running a successful campaign,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) said in a statement. “Jean is coming to Congress because she ran on the issues of greatest importance to Second District voters and has the proven experience to deliver in Washington.”

Democrats, meanwhile, crowed that Hackett’s near miss in a district long considered safe for Republicans is a national trouble sign for the GOP and possibly a foreshadowing of Democratic victories in next year’s midterm elections.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) called the results of the Ohio special “a shockwave of voter discontent” likely to reverberate across the country.

“Tonight we have seen rock solid Republicans say that they have had enough of a Congress that is in the grips of the special interests, roiled by ethics investigations and doing nothing to help solve the pressing challenges facing the middle class,” Emanuel said. “Every Republican in Congress should consider himself put on notice.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a statement echoing Emanuel and praising Hackett, a veteran of the Iraq war who was showered with national media attention and money from party activists in the closing weeks of the campaign.

“Paul Hackett is a war hero who campaigned with the same dignity and honor that he served our country,” Pelosi said. “Paul ran an excellent campaign and made what should have been an easy Republican win a tough contested race.”

The special election was marked by a late flurry of negative ads and relatively heavy spending on behalf of the candidates by both national parties.

The closer-than-expected results also further highlight the troubles of the Ohio GOP, which is currently embroiled in controversy and scandal.

In late TV ads, Democrats sought to tie Schmidt to Gov. Bob Taft (R), whose approval rating in the state is below 20 percent.

Throughout the campaign, fiscal conservatives also hit Schmidt for supporting tax increases while in the state Legislature. The Club for Growth ran TV ads attacking Schmidt before the June primary, and a coalition of Republican and Democratic groups went up with radio spots last week telling voters they would be better served to stay home than vote for her on Tuesday.

In the end, Schmidt won by 3,573 votes out of more than 112,000 ballots cast in the seven-county district that stretches across the state’s southern tier from the Cincinnati suburbs east to rural Appalachia territory. President Bush won 64 percent of the vote in the district in last year’s presidential contest.

While Schmidt won the three most populous counties — Hamilton, Clermont and Warren — Hackett tallied an impressive vote total in Hamilton, losing to Schmidt there by just 1,391 votes. Hackett won the other four counties that make up the district.

The 43-year-old lawyer, who completed a seven-month tour in Iraq earlier this year, drew national attention and money to the race with his candid criticism of Bush and his handling of the situation in Iraq. He told USA Today last week: “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.”

Schmidt, 53, a marathon runner who narrowly lost a GOP primary for state Senate in 2004, will become the first woman to represent the 2nd district. She will be sworn in when Congress returns to work in September.