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WASHINGTON — An attorney from southwest Ohio could become the first veteran of the war on terrorism to join Congress if he wins a special election next Tuesday.

Paul Hackett, a former major in the Marines who spent eight months with the 4th Civil Affairs team near Ramadi, wants to fill the seat vacated by Republican Rep. Rob Portman, who stepped down in April to become a U.S. trade representative. The congressional district covers parts of seven counties west of Cincinnati.

Hackett won the Democratic primary in June and will square off in the general election against Republican Jean Schmidt, a former state representative. His only previous experience in elected office was as a councilman for the city of Milford, whose population is less than 7,000.

But the 43-year-old said he was drawn to the race because he felt Congress has too many “career politicians,” and that his experience as a businessman and Marine has given him a better perspective on how to serve the district.

Hackett was commissioned in 1985, but accepted a law deferment for three years and then reported to the Naval Justice School in 1988. After graduating, he served two years on Okinawa.

In 1992, he left active duty but joined the reserves, and started a private law practice. He left the reserves in 1999.

But in 2003 he began talking with his wife about joining the active duty ranks again, even though he opposed military action in Iraq.

“The big draw was the chance to serve my country. That’s what drew me to the Marines in the first place,” he said. “I thought the country might need my help.”

He arrived in Iraq in August, and took over convoy commander duties and helped organize the payroll of Ramadi-area government workers. In November, he volunteered to help secure the eastern entry into Fallujah while coalition forces swept through the city.

“I certainly did not do the heaviest of the lifting,” he said. “But on the convoy, we were ambushed on more than one occasion.”

Since returning in March, his schedule has been different from his war zone duties: meetings with local organizations, fund raisers with Ohio politicians, and interviews with local media to get his message out.

Last week, his campaign events included an appearance with former Sen. Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and a Georgia Democrat.

Hackett said he doesn’t see the war as the main issue in the campaign, although he admits most questions he gets start there.

“The number one thing we should be talking about is economy and jobs,” he said. “But throughout the district, most people have family members or family friends who are in Iraq. So it’s difficult not to talk about.”

According to the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, 141 current members of Congress are veterans and 35 served in active war zones, most during the Vietnam War.

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