What is going on in Ohio?

The famously decisive state of the 2004 elections could turn out to be a key battleground in 2006 and 2008, so the answer potentially affects all Americans.

Dateline: 19 August 2005

Just a few months ago the Republican lock on Ohio looked pretty solid. Indeed, as candidates position themselves for next yearís elections, the biggest Republican weakness was that the party had too many candidates. All the state wide offices are held by Republicans, as are both the US Senate seats. With both Senators expected to seek re-election (in 2006 and 2010) there is something of a scramble for the governorís office. By contrast the only famous face that the Democrats have is former Cincinnati mayor and talk show host, Jerry Springer.

Among the Republicans who might seek the governorship are state Treasurer Jennette B. Bradley and Secretary of State J Kenneth Blackwell, both African Americans. Two other state officers, Attorney General Jim Petro and State Auditor Betty Montgomery both appear to be in the race.

Blackwell is perhaps the most interesting candidate. Demonized by Democrats still smarting over last yearís presidential election, he has also offended the GOP old guard by opposing governor Taftís tax raising policies. But neither of these factors will do him any harm with Republican primary voters.

He has worked in Washington think tanks, and in previous Republican administrations. In Ohio he was mayor of Cincinnati and state Treasurer before becoming Secretary of State. A friend of mine who works as a K Street lobbyist and was on the Presidential campaign of a Republican Senator in the 1990s, described Blackwell as one of the most charismatic politicians he has ever met.

And yet things do not look good for the Ohio GOP. The Taft administration has been mired in scandal and beset by unpopularity for some time. With Taft now admitting criminal charges, the Democrats scent victory, both in next yearís open governorship and the US Senate seat currently held by Mike DeWine. With two congressmen fighting for the opportunity to contest the governorship the party feels in a strong position.

But the race has hardly started, so letís not declare a victor just yet. In the very week that a Republican governor pleads no contest to criminal charges, no Republican candidate is going to be scoring well in the polls. By November 2006 the candidate will have had time to distance him or herself from Taft Ė especially if the candidate is Blackwell, who has a strong public record of opposing Taftís most unpopular policies. And there is still a chance that former congressman and Presidential candidate John Kasich will enter the race.

The Democrats put forward a strong candidate, Paul Hackett, in a recent special election to Congress. He lost, but ran a good race in a heavily Republican district. He is said to be contemplating a run for the US Senate next year. Jerry Springer, another possible candidate, has yet to declare.

The Democrats would certainly be delighted to take either the Senate seat or the governorís mansion, let alone both, in this crucial state, but the Republican field is strong. If either Blackwell or Kasich is elected, I guarantee you will hear of them again Ė possibly when they ask for your votes for President.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 19 August 2005

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