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Ohio Special Election Could Be '06 Bellwether

Batavia, Ohio, typifies much of the state's 2nd Congressional District, which hasn't sent a Democrat to Washington in nearly 40 years.

But with a special election set for Tuesday, the competitive race for the seat has surprised many election watchers.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jeff Goldblatt

"The 2nd district of Ohio is normally not a competitive seat. It is an unusual set of circumstances here," said Michael Margolis, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati.

The vacancy opened in April when the Senate approved President Bush's choice of Republican Rep. Rob Portman (search) as U.S. trade representative. Portman's congressional district was considered historically safe for the GOP, with the seven-term Portman never winning less than 72 percent of the vote. But that Republican sense of security has been shaken with the candidacy of Paul Hackett (search), an attorney and former city councilman.

Hackett is an unusual Democratic candidate for the district. He supports gun rights and is a U.S. Marines reservist who served in Iraq, where he led troops in combat in Fallujah.

Hackett said he believes his service will win votes in a district that twice delivered a two-to-one margin for President Bush. He admits that he and the commander-in-chief don't see eye to eye on Iraq.

"I agree with the president. We need to get the job done there, stay there, and don't set an exit date. I agree with him on that. However, I disagree with him, I don't think we should have gone into Iraq originally," Hackett said.

Former Ohio state House Rep. Jean Schmidt (search), who has the endorsement of Portman, said that's not her outlook.

"We were right to go in there and get rid of the thugs that were controlling the environment," Schmidt said.

Schmidt bested a field of 10 candidates to become the GOP candidate in this race. But because of her support for most of the president's major policy decisions, Hackett has labeled Schmidt a "rubber stamp."

Hackett, meanwhile, has been assailed by Republicans for saying Bush is the greatest threat to the United States today, and then for refusing to apologize for comments he made to USA Today.

"I've said that I don't like the son-of-a-b---- that lives in the White House. But I'd put my life on the line for him," he is quoted as saying in the article.

"There's something wrong when a person says that the greatest threat to the United States is not Usama bin Laden, but the man in the White House," Schmidt said.

Schmidt leads Hackett in fund-raising by three to one. And yet her national party entered the campaign last week, spending more than $300,000 on a negative television ad.

"A liberal Democrat, Hackett says paying even higher taxes would make him ad," says the ad created by the Republican National Congressional Committee.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee countered with an ad linking Schmidt to Ohio's embattled Republican Gov. Bob Taft.

"Taft and Schmidt. They're not a law firm. They're the team that delivered the largest tax increase in Ohio history," says the DCCC ad.

The Taft administration has recently been embroiled in a scandal involving state pension fund investments in rare coins, millions of dollars of which are now missing.

Some political observers say this congressional race may reveal the strength of both parties, which are facing some tough races in Ohio in 2006. The Ohio Republican Party admits that in this race its get-out-the-vote machine may be a bit tired.

"You know, we've got a lot of volunteer apathy in that district, really all over the state. People are worn out," said Jason Mauk, political director of the Ohio GOP, who nonetheless sent the state party's entire elections team to the 2nd District.

Democrats, on the other hand, say they are charged by a possible win after considerable disappointment in November.

"People have been working very hard. People are coming down from Columbus and Toledo to help with that race," said Gabrielle Williamson, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Democratic Party.

Voters may not offer many clues as to the future health of the parties in the state that decided last year's presidential election. Turnout is predicted to be under 20 percent.

FOX News' Steve Brown contributed to this report.