Many looked at the race for insight into next year's congressional elections.
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Democrats in Ohio and nationally see momentum for 2006 in the tight special congressional election, even though the Republicans held onto the seat.
Former state Rep. Jean Schmidt, saved by a nearly 5,000-vote margin in her home Clermont County, won Tuesday with 52 percent, or 57,974 votes, to Democrat Paul Hackett's 48 percent, or 54,401 votes, in unofficial returns. The race was in doubt until the last precincts trickled in from Clermont, and Hackett carried four of the district's seven southwest Ohio counties.
Just 10 months ago, President Bush carried the seven-county district with 64 percent of the vote, and Republican Rob Portman, now the U.S. trade representative, won re-election with 72 percent.
"This very red district became a lot bluer," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The result shows "there is no safe Republican district," he said.
National political and media attention focused on the race for insights into next year's midterm congressional elections and for Ohio Republicans as Gov. Bob Taft's administration faces mounting ethics controversies in a state with a sluggish economy.
"The Ohio race sends a much larger signal," said Washington-based Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg.
"I think voters are fed up with what's happening in the state of Ohio, and Jean was tied to that," said Tim Burke, Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman. "She survived, but she didn't survive with the kind of margin she expected."
Hackett is an Iraq war veteran who has been critical of Bush, often describing him as a "chicken hawk." Hackett opposed the invasion but says the United States must now improve training of Iraqi security forces so that U.S. forces can leave.
He didn't see the election as a referendum on Bush or the war, and said his criticism of the president probably was a wash when it came to votes.
Schmidt, who received a congratulatory phone call from Bush on Wednesday night, said the accelerated campaign period and low turnout of special elections make their results unreliable for trends.
"I would caution anyone who sees this as a bellwether that this is a special election," she said Wednesday. "They're unique. The dynamics are very different."
She also said some Republicans in the district were drained by the heated, 11-candidate June primary she won.
Ohio Republican Party chairman Bob Bennett commended Schmidt for winning despite "the onslaught of national media attention given to her opponent's exploitation of the Iraq war and the extraordinary investment of resources committed by national Democrats."
Schmidt, 53, got plenty of help from national Republicans, too, and both candidates were able to keep up heavy media advertisement campaigns. Hackett, 43, said an online push raised $400,000 for his campaign.
Among those offering congratulations to Hackett were Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry.