WASHINGTON — With a shove from party leaders, Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett abruptly quit a key Senate race in Ohio and further exposed a disconnect between the Democratic establishment and Internet-fueled challengers.
The political novice withdrew under intense pressure from party leaders in Washington, clearing the field for Rep. Sherrod Brown -- a 30-year veteran of Democratic politics with more than $2.5 million in the bank.
Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Hackett's decision to quit gave the party a better chance of beating two-term GOP Sen. Mike DeWine in November.
Hackett drew his strongest support from Democratic activists outside Washington and Ohio who donated money and time via the Internet, including many who considered his military record an asset against DeWine.
"Hackett would have probably won this seat," David Nir, one of three founders of the liberal website SwingStateProject.com, contended in a blog posting Tuesday. "It's much harder for me to envision the 'northeastern Ohio liberal' Sherrod Brown breaking the 49% barrier, particularly with DeWine moving to the center."
Not everyone agreed in the world of blogs, but there was plenty of anger, and many threatened not to help Brown. Matt Stoller, a leading voice on the liberal blog MyDD.comwho wasn't involved in the Ohio Senate race, said Hackett represented a failure by bloggers to compete.
"Establishment Democrats are still more powerful than we are, by orders of magnitude," Stoller wrote. "While we can put tens of thousands into a race, they can dwarf that with millions."
Hackett said the party's decision "highlights the challenge that's still there" to close the gap between Washington and the party's grass roots.
In 2004, Internet activists helped former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean leapfrog establishment candidates in the months leading up to the Democratic presidential primaries, but he quickly fell once the voting started.
Last month, Sen. John F. Kerry made a point of posting a message on the liberal blog DailyKos to assure bloggers that he and the other Massachusetts senator, Edward M. Kennedy, would push to block a Senate vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. They couldn't get enough support to mount a filibuster.
On Tuesday, soon after Hackett said he was quitting politics, the largest liberal Internet organization, MoveOn.org, notified its 3.3 million members of a new strategy: working to oust conservative Democratic incumbents.
Another grass-roots group that backed Hackett, Democratic war veterans, expressed outrage as well.
"Hackett brought credibility on the No. 1 issue facing the nation -- the war in Iraq," said Jon Soltz, an Iraq combat veteran and executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Political Action Committee. "The Democratic Party loses credibility on that issue because he is no longer running, and because they had a hand in his decision."
Hackett said he had ended his 11-month political career. It reached its zenith last summer when his House campaign in a conservative Cincinnati-area district raised $850,000 in two months, $500,000 of it through blogs.
Republicans contended the Democrats hurt themselves.
"The Democrat party bosses dumped a candidate with mainstream vote-getting potential for one of their most liberal members," said Dan Ronayne, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "In doing so, the Democrats have settled on a candidate who is fundamentally out of touch with the mainstream values of Ohioans. Happy Valentine's Day, indeed."