Much has been written about the excellent group of Black Republican candidates currently running for high-level political office, around the nation. Following is my ranking of the top four of such campaigns to watch, this year. (Note: Rankings are based solely on my opinion regarding the candidates’ odds of being elected).
Ken Blackwell: The most impressive member of this fraternity is Ohio Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell. As George Will pointed out in a recent column, “Blackwell is particularly noteworthy because he has had the most varied political career — a city councilman at 29, mayor at 31, national chairman of Steve Forbes‘s 2000 presidential campaign. And because he is the most conservative.” Blackwell is not a favorite of the national or Ohio GOP. Normally, this would be a negative, but in a year when the Ohio GOP is tainted with scandal, being an outsider has proven to be serendipitous. Why did I pick Blackwell for number one? First of all, his race is an open-seat, meaning he won’t have to try to oust an incumbent. His extensive campaign experience means he won’t have to reinvent the wheel — and it also means he is much less likely to commit the gaffes typical of inexperienced candidates. And, unlike Maryland (where our next candidate hails from), Ohio is a swing-state with a history of electing both Republicans and Democrats.
Michael Steele: Although Michael Steele’s campaign experience is limited, as the sitting lieutenant governor of Maryland, he comes into the race with governing credentials. Steele won’t have to face a primary challenger (as Blackwell must), but that advantage is neutralized by the fact that he is running in a strongly Democrat state. Unlike Blackwell, Steele is an insider and a favorite of GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman. It is unclear whether or not this is a benefit to Steele. While insider status comes with many perks, turf battles between national GOP operatives and Steele loyalists from Maryland have resulted in the campaign being criticized for being in disarray. Steele and Blackwell both are fortunate; they are both elected to statewide office. Both are also both running for open-seats (that alone is reason enough to rank them ahead of the other two on the list.) Steele gets the number two spot because he is an inexperienced candidate running in a very tough state. But I still think he has a good chance in November.
Lynn Swann: Arguably, the biggest winner to come out of this years’ Super Bowl victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers was Lynn Swann. Swann, of course, was a star player for the great 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers team that won four Super Bowls. Swann is extremely charismatic and likeable; however he has little political experience. He has compared his situation to that of Ronald Reagan, who was able to be elected governor of California without having previously been elected. However, unlike Swann, Ronald Reagan had been extremely politically active for many years prior to running for office. Unlike Blackwell and Steele, Swann has the unfortunate task of running against an incumbent. What is more, his opponent is Governor Ed Rendell, a tough and experienced 0ld-school politician. Like Steele, Swann enjoys the full support of the national GOP. While this has advantages, I’ve heard from some conservative Pennsylvania grassroots activists that they resent the way GOP insiders have coronated Swann as the gubernatorial candidate. While this won’t deter Republicans from voting for Swann over Rendell, it might hurt him when it comes to recruiting and motivating grassroots conservative leaders. Swann can win this race, but it will require his running a flawless campaign, plus some luck. It’s hard to knock off an incumbent, especially one as tough and smart as Ed Rendell.
Keith Butler: Rounding out the group is Keith Butler, a former Detroit city councilman and currently pastor of a suburban church with a congregation of 21,000). Like Blackwell, Butler is very conservative, and like Blackwell (see a pattern here), he is considered an outsider in the GOP. Unfortunately, Butler lacks the political experience and organization that allows Blackwell to overcome — and even benefit — from outsider status. Perhaps the most disenchanting blow to Butlers’ chances came when GOP insiders recruited Michael Bouchard, a Republican state senator and former sheriff) to re-enter the primary race against Butler (Bouchard had previously dropped out of the race for health reasons). Butler is a victim of the circumstances; He must face the party favorite in the primary and then, if he gets the nomination, face an incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator in a tough state. Butler’s race is winnable, but it is by far the most difficult of the four. My hopes are that Butler does not become disenchanted with the political process. Butler has a bright political future, but probably not in 2006.