Once again, Ohio could become possibly the most prominent of the battleground states in a crucial election year.
At first glance, this appears to be very advantageous to the Democrats — so much so that they can practically be heard licking their collective chops.
For one thing, the state has been plagued by an investment scandal involving its Bureau of Workers Compensation. Despite the bi-partisan nature of the scandal, the implication of a major Republican fundraiser has allowed the Democrats to make the Buckeye state a veritable poster child for their incessant ‘culture of corruption’ charges.
In addition, the state faces economic problems that exist despite Republicans having controlled state government for over a decade.
Finally, the U.S. Senate seat of Republican Mike DeWine is considered in jeopardy, largely owing to his periodic alienation of the party’s conservative base.
Therefore, Democrats are upbeat — if not downright giddy — about their prospects.
Unfortunately for their aspirations in Ohio however, there is yet another factor that may well cause their house of cards to come tumbling down.
That is the Republicans’ nomination for governor of Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a principled and energetic black conservative.
Mr. Blackwell — whose chances were once largely dismissed by the entrenched Ohio Republican establishment — won the primary by a double-digit margin.
Now he has been reviled as a "right-wing kook" by the former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
Of course, this kind of ridiculous rhetoric in which liberal Democrats so specialize, is the clearest indication that they are petrified that Blackwell’s nomination may wind up spoiling their planned November victory party.
Blackwell is indeed a major threat to them.
First, he is genuine bedrock conservative who is already battle-tested in the arena of vicious partisan political attacks. As Ohio Secretary of State, Blackwell was the focal point of dubious Democratic charges of irregularities in the 2004 Presidential election in which Ohio provided the margin of victory for George W. Bush — charges that were no less trumpeted in the mainstream media on account of their baselessness.
Hence, being called childish names by those who should know better will not cause him to pack it in and run for cover. In fact, he relishes the tantrums as simply exposing further the Democrats’ lack of connection with the electorate.
"He’s calling a lot of people kooks," Blackwell said of Ruvolo’s smear. "It just reflects the fact that he’s out of touch with a broad cross-section of Ohioans and it helps explain why the Democrats are the minority party in Ohio and have been for some time."
Another reason Blackwell is trouble for the Democrats is that as someone who was never an insider among the country-club set of Ohio Republicans, and as someone who had no direct role in overseeing the developments that led to the state’s investment scandal, he is largely insulated from the attempts to implicate him that are certainly forthcoming.
In fact, Blackwell says the scandal is more likely to redound to the detriment of his opponent, Congressman Ted Strickland.
"It will be hard for him to tag me with corruption charges because he won’t join me in my call for the resignation of every member of the Bureau of Workers Compensation oversight committee that was in place when everything happened," Blackwell said.
"He won’t do that because one of his political bosses has been on that committee since its inception. So I will have a much easier time of tying him and his campaign to the so-called culture of corruption that he will of me.
"And we’re certainly not going to shrink from counter-punching if they go down that road."
Finally — and most important — minorities have been very receptive to Blackwell, who has received over 40% of that voting bloc in his previous state-wide runs. If this repeats itself, it will almost surely be the death-knell not only for Strickland’s candidacy, but likely for the entire Democratic ticket.
Thus, an ultimate irony appears to be taking place. Namely, that the Republican elites that previously distanced themselves from Blackwell are now largely dependent on receiving a "Blackwell bounce" that could pull the rest of their vulnerable candidates through.
Much of the past rancor has been due to Blackwell’s readiness to back movements that he sees as vitally important even if they run counter to mainstream Republican policies.
Blackwell has spearheaded a referendum to repeal a highly unpopular 20% sales tax increase — implemented after even more highly unpopular Republican governor Bob Taft had been re-elected largely on a campaign promise not to raise broad-based taxes without a public vote. He has wholeheartedly supported a constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage (that incidentally passed by a landslide). And now he has proposed another constitutional amendment that would cap runaway government spending.
No wonder he’s so often been persona non grata to traditional politicians of either party.
But Blackwell has remained undeterred by any hysteria raised against him. Rather, he forcefully makes his case to the public.
"We’re 47th in the nation terms of job creation, and dead last in terms of new small-business start-ups," Blackwell says.
"This is what happens when you combine a nation-leading 70% increase in state spending since 1994 with a confiscatory tax code, mountains of regulatory red-tape, along with being one of the national leaders in lawsuit abuse. We’ve created an environment that’s anti-capital, anti-investment, anti-business formation, and anti-job creation."
The fact that this has all occurred under Republican rule may seem like manna from heaven for the Democrats, but Blackwell says that’s not the case.
"If my opponent was offering something that would represent change from the status quo, that might be a problem, but he’s not,”"Blackwell said. "He’s not offering a program that will expand our economy or create jobs. All he’s really advocating is more spending."
There’s every reason to believe that Blackwell’s message will strike a positive chord with voters — especially among minorities that have supported Blackwell in the past — and not merely due to his skin-color.
"It would be wrong for anyone to vote for me just because of race, just as it would be wrong for anyone to vote against me for that reason," Blackwell said.
"But the support we’ve received from minorities indicates that the conservative message is resonating with them.
"I tell them that the only way to revitalize our cities is by really changing them to invite capital investment. That means getting crime under control, having good schools, removing incentives for out-of-wedlock births, and eliminating abortion on demand. When you start talking about how moral choices relate to wealth-creation and prosperity, all of a sudden you see minorities responding positively."
Blackwell says this should ultimately lead to a very welcome development in Ohio and across the country — the re-establishment of a competitive two-party system in minority communities.
At that point the Democrats will face what for them will undoubtedly be a very traumatic choice: either give up the foolishness they’ve advocated for so long, or face the bleak prospect of total political oblivion.
In the meantime, everything points to the likelihood that a lot of befuddled liberal pundits on election night will be puzzling over what went wrong again for the Democrats in Ohio.