COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Maryland borders Pennsylvania, which borders Ohio, which borders Michigan. In that swath of America, extending 950 miles from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay to the shores of Lake Superior, this year's politics could produce a remarkable quartet of Republican victories -- black U.S. senators from Maryland (Michael Steele, who now is lieutenant governor) and Michigan (Keith Butler, a former Detroit city councilman, currently pastor of a suburban church with a congregation of 21,000), and black governors in Pennsylvania (Lynn Swann, the former Pittsburgh Steeler) and Ohio (Ken Blackwell, currently secretary of state).
Blackwell is particularly noteworthy because he has had the most varied political career -- a city councilman at 29, mayor at 31, national chairman of Steve Forbes' 2000 presidential campaign. And because he is the most conservative.
Polls suggest that Blackwell, 57, can win the Republican primary May 2. National party leaders think that only he can keep the governorship Republican, because the state GOP establishment has been hostile to him, and Ohio voters are now robustly hostile to it.
He annoys the establishment because he, unlike it, believes things. He believes that the establishment is proof of a conservative axiom: Any political group or institution that is not ideologically conservative will become, over time, liberal. That is so because, in the absence of a principled adherence to limited government, careerism -- the political idea of the unthoughtful -- will cause incumbents to use public spending to purchase job security.
In 1998, party elders pressured Blackwell into stepping aside to clear the path to the governorship for Bob Taft -- great-great-grandson of a U.S. attorney general, great-grandson of a president, grandson and son of U.S. senators. Today, Taft's job approval has plunged to 18 percent among Republican voters. The rest of the electorate is more hostile. Republicans hold 12 of 18 U.S. House seats and both Senate seats. Unfortunately for Ohio Republicans, they also control both elected branches of the state government and their record of scandals and un-Republican governance -- substantial tax and spending increases -- have Blackwell, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound former college football player (Xavier University in Cincinnati), running against his party's record.