Hackett tested political waters for those to come
May 28, 2006
As about a dozen veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan run for office this fall, Paul Hackett knows what they’re facing.
Tons of schmoozing. A brutal travel schedule. And the fundraising. Endless fundraising.
“If you like begging for money, you’re going to like politics,” said Hackett, a major with the Marine Corps’ Individual Ready Reserves.
Hackett deployed to Iraq in 2004, serving in Ramadi with the 1st Marine Division’s 4th Civil Affairs Group. When he returned home to Ohio, he was in the vanguard of the military veteran candidates who have popped up in this year’s Congressional races.
He narrowly lost a special congressional election in 2005, and he ran for Senate until bowing out earlier this year, citing pressure from Democratic Party leadership for a more established candidate.
But while busying himself with other activities, Hackett is watching the other veterans as they head toward Election Day.
With Iraq at the front of most voters’ minds, those vets are in a position to speak with authority about what’s happening on the ground, he said.
“Those candidates with military experience can address these issues with more credibility and better experience than those who have never served and who actively avoided service,” Hackett said recently by telephone.
“Every war produces a new group of leaders that come back both emboldened by serving and desiring to make a positive change.”
Hackett was the primary veteran-candidate to show the Democrats that they might have the electoral antidote to their perceived national defense shortcomings.
“If Democrats could design a dream candidate to capitalize on national distress about the war in Iraq, he would look a lot like the tall, telegenic Marine Reserve major who finished a seven- month tour of Iraq in March,” USA Today wrote of Hackett in July 2005 before the special election.
Still, it wasn’t an easy run for him. Characterized as plain-spoken almost to a fault, Hackett saw the challenges a member of the military can face when entering the political firefight.
Coming from a military mindset and culture, veterans sometimes find it hard to play the part and do all those little things needed in order to be seen as a viable candidate, said Richard Kohn, a history professor and chair of the Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
“You start out in a campaign, and it can be disorienting,” Kohn said, adding that outsiders can find the process “messy, dirty and demeaning.” Some candidates can lose patience with it altogether.
“When Gen. [Wesley] Clark ran for the presidency, he had some problems with misspeaking, and he’s a pretty smooth customer.”
While he has said he won’t run for office again, Hackett said he’s got high hopes for the veteran-candidates running this year.
“I’m going to be just as happy and proud if they win,” he said. “And that’s uniquely military.”