Ohio has set its sights on being the place to watch in this fall’s elections. You have a congressman, Robert Ney, who is actually listed in Jack Abramoff’s indictment, running for re-election; you have a competitive Senate race; and a new governor will be elected to replace term-limited Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest last summer to accepting secret gifts and is currently polling in the mid-20’s.
The Republican nominee for governor is Kenneth Blackwell, the current Secretary of State and a homophobic right-winger — he was instrumental in the 2004 state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He’s also linked to the shady vote-counting in the 2004 election that gave the presidential race to Bush. (What is it with state officials who do the dirty work for the Bush election team? In 2000 it was Katherine Harris in Florida, elected to Congress in 2002, who is running a senate campaign that is a textbook case on how to crater an election with bizarre accusations against her opponents that make the tin-foil hat brigade say, “Hey, lady, you’re on your own.” Now we have Kenneth Blackwell, whom the Democrats are going to attach to the outgoing governor so hard you’d think his name was Kenneth B. Taft.)
Mr. Blackwell may have troubles of his own making. Several churches in Ohio are accused of “improperly boosting” Mr. Blackwell’s campaign to the point that other clergymen have asked the IRS to investigate. It will also be interesting to see how race plays out in this campaign. Mr. Blackwell, who is African-American, is seen as a breakthrough for Republicans in attracting the black vote in places like Cleveland and Toledo, where the Democrats have traditionally done well. It will also be interesting to see how Mr. Blackwell does in parts of the state — particularly in the southeast — where Republicans have held the redneck vote; getting them to vote for a black man, conservative or not, could be a challenge. (For a fascinating take on whether or not race is still an issue in America, read this posting by David Neiwert at Orcinus.)
Mr. Blackwell’s opponent in the race is no shrinking violet. Ted Strickland, a seven-term congressman, will run a very competitive race.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mike DeWine faces another congressman, Sherrod Brown, who will also be a tough campaigner.
Get the popcorn.