Published April 22, 2006
A veteran politico in Columbus offered an interesting observation about J. Kenneth Blackwell's candidacy for the Republican nomination for Ohio governor: The television commercials Blackwell is airing may turn out to be a mistake because it serves to remind voters that he's black.
No, the politico isn't a racist, but he is a realist. The question underlying his observation is this: Will those Republicans who went to the polls in 2004 and put President Bush over the top in Ohio be inclined to vote for a black?
Blackwell, currently secretary of state, is making a bid for those voters, the ultra conservatives who respond to the religious right. Indeed, they were lured to the polls in 2004 by State Issue 1, the so-called marriage amendment, that was pushed by the evangelical movement. The issue passed by a wide margin. Bush benefitted from the flood of Republicans voters who, until then, had cast ballots only occassionally.
Blackwell, the darling of the right wing of the Republican Party, hopes to replicate the president's success in Ohio, but there is the issue of his color. While political analysts in the state have been less than willing to discuss whether Ohio is ready for a black governor, the issue is on the minds of many of them, as evidenced by the comments of the veteran politico.
If the Republican voters from the rural counties in southern Ohio who gave Bush his margin of victory and ultimately his re-election show up on May 2, Blackwell will win. By their presence at their polling places they will be saying that Blackwell's being black makes no difference to them. His ultra conservatism is all that matters.
But if they stay home, Jim Petro, Ohio's attorney general, will win the GOP nomination for governor. That's because the traditional Republican voters tend to be moderate. Petro is a moderate, although of late he has tried to appeal to the right wingers by wearing his religion on his sleeve.
Indeed, it's an indication of just how afraid Republican politicians are of the religious conservatives and their ability to rally their troops.
Has Blackwell made a mistake by airing television commercials in which he is featured? We'll know by which Republican voters show up on May 2.