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Terence Jeffrey / Nov. 26, 2008

Drafting Ken Blackwell

After Ken Blackwell graduated from college, he did a short stint with the Dallas Cowboys, but soon decided playing professional football was not his destiny. Now some longtime Republican activists are seeking to draft Blackwell, Ohio’s former secretary of state, into the race for national Republican Party chairman. They believe it is his destiny to lead the GOP.

Blackwell is seriously considering running for the position.

“You could not find a person better suited to the job,” said one of the activists who spoke to me on background.

First, these activists argue, Blackwell knows how to win elections. He started his political career back in the 1970s in his hometown of Cincinnati, where he was initially elected a city council member and then mayor. (He later served under the senior President Bush as under secretary of housing and urban development and as ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.)

More recently, Blackwell was elected to statewide office three straight times, once as state treasurer and twice as a secretary of state. In 2006, he won the Republican gubernatorial nomination, but lost the general election in what was a very tough year for the GOP.

Second, Blackwell’s long record of political success did not come in just any state, but in the ultimate swing state of American politics. It is a cliche, but a factual one, that Republicans cannot win the White House without winning Ohio. Blackwell knows how to win Ohio.

Third, Blackwell is a battle-tested, rock-solid Reagan Republican, sharing the conservative values of the party’s grass roots on both economic and social issues.

He has long been an advocate of both lower taxes and limited government.

In 1995, Blackwell served on the National Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform, chaired by Jack Kemp. The commission, with Blackwell’s support, recommended a flat tax. In 2000, he was national chairman for the presidential campaign of flat-tax champion Steve Forbes.

When Blackwell was running for governor of Ohio in 2006, I asked him what he believed to be the core principles the Republican Party must defend. “First, that the individual is at the center of our political system, not the state, not government,” he said. “I believe in limited government. I actually believe that free men and free women and free markets can overcome any kind of economic challenge.”

“I trust in people to make good decisions,” he added. “I understand there are things, but only a limited number of things, that government can do that individuals and communities of individuals cannot do by themselves.”

One of the most popular causes in American politics in recent years has been defending traditional marriage, and Blackwell has been in the forefront of this cause, too. In 2004, he was a principal proponent of the Ohio state defense-of-marriage amendment that won more than 60 percent of the vote.

He has never wavered in defending the right to life. The Website of his 2006 gubernatorial campaign stated: “Ken Blackwell believes all innocent life is sacred and should be protected. His opposition to abortion has been steadfast and consistent, he has always been pro-life. The first obligation of government is to protect innocent life. As governor, Ken would advance a culture of life, just as he has for 30 years, as mayor of Cincinnati, ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission and in statewide office.”

Perhaps most importantly, Blackwell is a happy warrior in the mold of Ronald Reagan. He persuasively communicates Republican ideas and principals with wit and unfailing good humor.

It is also a plus, his advocates say, that he happens to be an African-American who can expand the visibility of the Republican Party in a community where its reach has been sadly and dramatically attenuated in recent decades.

“I think Ken would be a great chairman,” Club for Growth President Pat Toomey told me this week. “He understands the importance of holding the coalition that can restore the Republican Party to its majority. He’s a solid conservative. He’s a very appealing guy. He will go over well with not just the Republican base but also with the moderate Republicans and independents that we need to attract and energize.

"I think he would be a great choice,” said Toomey.

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