Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, a Bush administration critic who had been recruited by top Democrats to run for U.S. Senate, said Tuesday he was reluctantly dropping his campaign and declared his political career over.
Hackett said he was pressured by party leaders to drop out of the Senate primary and run for the House against Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt instead.
National Democratic leaders, especially Sen. Charles Schumer, added to that pressure by telling his top fundraisers to stop sending money, Hackett said.
"My donor base and host base on both coasts was contacted by elected officials and asked to stop giving," Hackett told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "The original promise to me from Schumer was that I would have no financial concerns. It went from that to Senator Schumer actually working against my ability to raise money."
Schumer, a New York Democrat who heads the party's Senate campaign committee, was not immediately available for comment. But committee spokesman Phil Singer said neither the campaign committee nor Schumer "reached out to donors to ask them to take sides in this race."
Singer praised Hackett for making a "statesman-like decision" that would help the party in an important race.
The deadline for candidates to file for the May 2 primary is Thursday.
Hackett, a Cincinnati attorney and Marine Reservist, captured national attention last summer by blasting Bush's war policies, raising huge sums on the Internet and capturing 48 percent of the vote in one of the country's most conservative House districts. Republican Jean Schmidt won the special election in a tight race.
Hackett had declared his candidacy for Republican Mike DeWine's Senate seat after it appeared Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown would not run.
A few days afterward, Brown announced that he would run, and national Democrats privately began urging Hackett to step aside for the more seasoned politician.
Democrats also considered Schmidt vulnerable in a rematch against Hackett. She was widely criticized for saying in a speech about a troop pullout recommendation by Rep. John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran: "Cowards cut and run, Marines never do."
But Hackett said he had promised three Democrats running in the district that he would not run.
"I couldn't sleep with myself if I did to them what was done to me," he said.
"At the end of the day, my word is my bond and I will take it to my grave," he said. "Thus ends my 11-month political career."
Hackett said he still supports the party's effort to unseat DeWine.
"Whatever personal emotions I have about Sherrod, if he asks me to help in some way, and I can help and it doesn't interfere with my own life, I will do the best to help him," Hackett said.
Party leaders had been urging Hackett to switch to the House race since Brown jumped in, and on Sunday, some national Democrats made those requests public.
"If he stays in the Senate race, I'm with Paul Hackett, but this is about the House race and giving us another member of the Democratic caucus," said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, also urged Hackett on Sunday to run for Congress instead.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said Hackett still has the popular support to have an impact.
"It is my hope that whatever disappointment he might feel about these circumstances, that he will seize a different moment in the future," Redfern said.