Time to Clear the Field for Blackwell?

This past Sunday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer featured a column by Brent Larkin titled, “GOP’s ‘outsider’ has the inside track for governor.”

The “outsider” is Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Though Blackwell may be the darling of the conservative movement, he hasn’t curried the favor of either the Ohio or national GOP.

That’s not to say he hasn’t been endorsed by a lot of national mainstream leaders, because he has. Most recently, Governors Rick Perry (Tex.) and Mark Sanford (S.C.) endorsed him. Nevertheless, many GOP insiders would prefer he not win this three-way Republican primary. Blackwell threatens this peaceful prospect.

The true irony lies in Blackwell’s popularity. As an outsider, he’s managed to distance himself from Republican Ohio Governor Robert Taft’s recent scandals. This distance has paid off: According to the column, “Every poll on the contest says essentially the same thing. A consensus would read something like: Blackwell 35 percent, Montgomery 21 percent, Petro 20 percent, with the rest un-decided. That means if Blackwell receives only one out of every six undecided votes, he wins.”

For the good of the Republican Party, I think it’s time to ask someone in the Ohio Republican establishment to muster the courage to “clear the field” and give Blackwell a clean shot at the general election. The party has cleared the primary field before so why aren’t they doing it now?

Aside from being up in the polls, Blackwell has a lot of things going for him.

  • As a former mayor and secretary of state, he has executive branch experience.
  • He is a charismatic speaker who has staked out the conservative wing of the Ohio GOP.
  • Unlike legislators, he doesn’t have much of a voting record to attack—and in electoral politics, that can be a big political advantage.
  • He wins the African-American vote in Ohio.
  • And let’s not forget he’d be the first black GOP governor.

Without jinxing him, it’s safe to say these factors mean he has national appeal.

Inside the beltway, politicos under-estimate his many achievements. Surprisingly, many regard him as off-balance or not intelligent—which reminds me of what some used to say about Ronald Reagan—and now say about Dubya (good company to be in if you look at their win/loss record). In Blackwell’s case, you don’t get to be mayor of Cincinnati and secretary of state of Ohio without having something upstairs.

Just last year, his leadership kept the Democrats from stealing the 2004 election from President Bush. In fact, he’s been so effective that the liberals currently have a ballot initiative to strip the Ohio secretary of state from having any authority over elections.

Blackwell has that certain something that you can’t teach. He’s proven to be an effective leader in Ohio for the past 20 years. I hope Ohio’s political establishment will see past the political games in this campaign. Otherwise, they risk losing the governorship and shooting down a rising national star.