Published May 26, 2006
Ohio: The Theocratic Battleground of 2006
By Kevin Phillips
Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell's solid victory in the May 2 Republican gubernatorial primary sets up that November contest as the most important barometer of the Religious Right's attempt to dominate and transform U.S. politics.
Blackwell, a charismatic African-American backstopped by the Ohio Restoration Project of "Patriotic Pastors," is a 100% abortion opponent - no exceptions even to save the life of the mother - and is working closely with the national Religious Right to sew up pivotal Ohio in 2008, first for influence over the GOP presidential nomination and then for Buckeye State support of the GOP in November.
The fact that his Democratic opponent, Congressman Ted Strickland, is an ordained Methodist minister and represents a normally Republican swathe of rural and smalltown central Ohio counties, explains why Strickland currently has an 8-10 point poll lead in what appears to be a clear preference for the political center over the Religious Right. But there is also much more to the race.
With strong assistance sure to follow from the national GOP, Blackwell's easy primary success represents the third side of a powerful Religious Right triangle. In late 2004, conservative pastor Robert Johnson organized the Ohio Restoration Project to institutionalize the mobilization of evangelical voters that had helped George W. Bush to carry Ohio that year. In the same time period, the Southern Baptist Convention - with nearly 20 million adherents, the SBC is the largest U.S. Protestant denomination - announced that metropolitan Cleveland (the center of state Democratic voting) would be their national "Strategic Focus City" for conversion and mobilization in 2006-2007.
For some, this convergence of religious and voter enlistment activity smacked of an illegal attempt to involve churches in politics, and in January a group of 31 Ohio ministers filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service asking for an IRS investigation of the activities of the Ohio Restoration Project, which has not yet taken place (for details, see the Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 1). A deeper danger, however, may also be lurking.
The Ohio Restoration Project shares both the name and bias of a set of overtly theocratic proposals developed over the last few years - the House of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act, the First Amendment Restoration Act, and the Constitution Restoration Act introduced in Congress by sympathetic Republicans. These were designed by allies of preacher-politician Pat Robertson and are supported by the so-called Christian Reconstructionists who favor a move towards godly or biblical government. In January, Blackwell himself went to the Nevada national meeting of the ultra-conservative Council for National Policy ( which includes some Christian Reconstructionists) where he consulted with Religious Right leaders, including GING-PAC (God is Not Government) chief William Murray, who so noted on his web site.
Connections like these suggest that the Blackwell-Strickland race will be hard-fought and tight. Hitherto Republican women and mainline Protestants, not least Ohio's important Methodist electorate, will doubtless move towards Strickland. But Blackwell will probably make major inroads with black Democrats, especially in the Cleveland area, where the SBC proselytization may also be a factor.