Ohio's state and local tax burden, which was among the nation's lowest in the 1970s, is now the nation's seventh heaviest ($3,906 per capita). Blackwell blames taxes, lawsuit abuse and regulatory confusion for Ohio's ranking 47th in job creation, with a rate last year less than one-seventh of the national rate. Since January 1999, the beginning of the Taft years, Ohio has lost 210,000 manufacturing jobs. "We have become," Blackwell says, "one of the leading re-populators of other states." One in particular: He says that every 24 hours 65 Ohioans become Floridians.
He appeals to small-government conservatives by proposing a constitutional cap on state spending, and even leasing the Ohio Turnpike to private investors. His cultural conservatism has won him such intense support from many church leaders, some liberals are contemplating recourse to an American sacrament -- a lawsuit. It would threaten the tax-exempt status of churches deemed too supportive of Blackwell.
He appeals to blacks by being black, and because many blacks are cultural conservatives: George W. Bush won 16 percent of Ohio's black vote in 2004. In Blackwell's three statewide races, he has received between 30 percent and 40 percent of the black vote. If in November he duplicates that, he will win, and Democrats in many blue states will blanch because if their share of the black vote falls to 75 percent, their states could turn red.
His opponent, Congressman Ted Strickland, is evidence that Democrats have been educated by electoral disappointments. Strickland represents a culturally conservative district that extends from the Ohio River almost to Youngstown, a district Bush carried by just two points in 2000 and 2004. The son -- one of nine children -- of a steelworker, Strickland is reliably liberal on most matters but also has the NRA's A rating and voted to ban partial-birth abortions.
Control of the U.S Senate in 2007 could turn on whether Mike DeWine, a second-term Republican, is re-elected. He does not thrill conservatives, so he needs Blackwell on the ballot to arouse the party's base. Furthermore, the next presidential election, like the previous one, might turn on a close contest for Ohio's 20 electoral votes, a contest in which the governor, whoever he is, might make the difference. Which is why Ohio's gubernatorial election may be the most consequential this year.
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