George Will

Blackwell, another Republican, is Ohio's secretary of state and the nation's senior, in length of service, African American holder of a statewide office. He was elected Ohio's treasurer in 1994, when he became the first Ohio African American elected to statewide executive office. A conservative who supported Steve Forbes for the 2000 presidential nomination, Blackwell notes that if Al Gore had received the votes Ohioans gave Ralph Nader, Bush would have carried the state by just 1 percentage point instead of 4. So it might be momentous if in 2004 Bush increases his share of Ohio's African American vote from 9 percent to, say, 15 percent.

Winning reelection last year, Blackwell won 50 percent of the African American vote, but he does not think this helped the gubernatorial candidate at the top of the Republican ticket, Bob Taft, who won without significant African American support. However, Blackwell believes that his own statewide success made it easier for Taft to select an African American, Jennette Bradley, as his running mate for lieutenant governor.

The second African American elected lieutenant governor last year is Michael Steele, the first African American ever elected statewide in Maryland. Steele is a Republican (as was the only African American elected lieutenant governor in 1998 -- Joe Rogers in Colorado). Robert Ehrlich, who selected Steele and is now governor, may have received as much as 14 percent of the African American vote, while his opponent, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, did not get the African American turnout she needed.

Before the 2000 election, the most prominent African American in public life was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is prominent because of a Republican, the first President Bush. Never have African Americans been as prominent in a presidential administration as they are in the current one, given the war against terrorism and the prominence of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice in the waging of it. Before the war eclipsed domestic policy, the president was particularly interested in education policy, which is the purview of Secretary of Education Rod Paige, an African American.

Britain's Conservative Party gave the country a Jewish prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, and a female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. The second African American elected governor of an American state since Reconstruction -- Douglas Wilder was the first, in Virginia in 1989 -- may come from America's conservative party, the ranks of whose elected and appointed officials are decreasingly monochrome. And the successes of African American Republicans in statewide elections will begin to produce modest -- and tremendously consequential -- Republican gains among African Americans in presidential elections.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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