The young man wore a caged canary on his lapel. Paul Hackett towered several inches over him, smiling, shaking his hand.
Let me tell you something, canary in a cage, said Mr. Hackett, a candidate for U.S. Senate. Canary in a cage. You think a canary in a cage is going to lead you to salvation? We need to have a private talk.
The canary pin recalls an old miner s method of testing for dangerous gases. Congressman Sherrod Brown, Mr. Hackett s opponent in the Democratic Senate primary, has made it a campaign symbol for the struggles of American workers.
One of Mr. Brown s campaign workers wore such a pin last night to a meeting of young Democrats at the University of Toledo, where he encountered Mr. Hackett, on his way in to address the crowd.
Shortly after their conversation and a few minutes before he repeated his well-publicized claim that the Republican Party has been hijacked by religious fanatics Mr. Hackett motioned a few stragglers to follow him into the meeting.
Don t worry, Mr. Hackett said. I won t bite.
Mr. Hackett is an attorney and an Iraq war veteran. He talked for more than a half-hour to the young Democrats, peppering the crowd and particularly its members who work for Mr. Brown, including the congressman s niece with rhetorical questions about why Democrats lose in Ohio and how the party has lost footing nationally.
I m going to bang on your uncle here, OK?, but I d bang on him to his face if he were here, Mr. Hackett told Mr. Brown s niece, who appeared on Mr. Brown s behalf. She nodded. He continued: What s he going to do on the Senate side of Washington that he hasn t done on the House side for the last 12 years?
Mr. Hackett, who narrowly lost a congressional race in heavily Republican southern Ohio last year, went on to tout his support of gun rights and his success talking to rural voters. What I m asking you, he said, is to look at me and think how we, as Democrats, are going to win this state so we can do some good for people.
He took questions.
Someone asked about Iraq.
The war s over, Mr. Hackett said. It s time to bring the troops home anything that can be accomplished militarily in Iraq has already been accomplished.
They re voting, he continued a moment later. So what? That s what we went over there for? ... You don t spread democracy at the end of an M-16. We re not winning any hearts and minds over there, folks.
Someone then asked about illegal immigrants. The Bush administration, Mr. Hackett said, is willing to let illegals come in and take the jobs of Americans.
The answer made several of the young Democrats squirm in their seats. One pushed Mr. Hackett to clarify. Deport them? Mr. Hackett was asked.
If we can afford to, Mr. Hackett said, yeah.
The original questioner began to speak about the racism of Hispanics against whites. Mr. Hackett stood silently. An audience member suggested the discussion move on.
Someone asked how Mr. Hackett would balance the budget.
Do I think that we have to raise taxes? he said. If it has to be done, it has to be done especially if spending cuts don t cover the deficit. I don t like taxes, but if it s got to be done, it s got to be done.
Several young Democrats said afterward that they liked Mr. Hackett s message more than his style. The candidate wrapped up the meeting with a smile and a wave. You guys are easy, he said.
Contact Jim Tankersley at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.