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Ken Rudin's Political Corner: Blackwell's Ohio Win

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

And unprecedented victory in Ohio's GOP gubernatorial primary. That's our lead story this week on Political Corner.

Sitting in today for senior correspondent Juan Williams, is NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin.

KEN RUDIN reporting:

Thanks Ed.

I'm joined by Donna Brazile, the former campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore, in 2000. She now runs her own political consulting firm in Washington.

And with us is the Reverend Joseph Watkins, a member of the government relations group at Buchanan Ingersoll, and a member of the first President Bush's White House staff. Reverend Watkins joins us from WPHT in Philadelphia. Thanks for joining me Reverend.

Reverend JOSEPH WATKINS (Government Relations; Buchanan Ingersoll): Well glad to be here, Ken.

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (political strategist and former campaign manager for Gore-Lieberman 2000): Thank you, Ken.

RUDIN: Okay, well, you know we had the Ohio primary, and for the first time in state history, we have an African-American candidate for governor, Kenneth Blackwell. I think it goes without saying that Kenneth Blackwell is not the typical African-American politician, shall we say. He's a conservative Republican--although we've seen more and more black Republicans run for office. But he's a really in-your-face conservative Republican. Very strong conservative, social conservative, carries a Bible with him wherever he goes. And I think he spent just as much time attacking members of his own party, and the so-called liberals in his party, or the moderates, the squishy moderates in his party, as he has the Democrats.

Reverend Watkins, what do you see about Ken Blackwell and his chances for November?

Rev. WATKINS: I think his chances are very, very good for November. He had a contested primary, which is always a challenge. It means you have to spend money to win, to be the nominee--and he did that and he's won now fair and square. And I think the good thing about it is that it's really helped Ken to identify who it is, he is. Not that the people Ohio didn't already know who he happened to be. He's got a long history in the state, from local politics in the Cincinnati area, and as mayor for a term, as well as on the state level. There is, of course, secretary of state, and treasurer of the state of Ohio. And as a national person, having worked in the first Bush administration.

So he's got tremendous credentials. But he really is a very sincere guy. And, I think he holds close to him the same values that he was taught as a kid. And it just so happens that those values put him on the Republican side of the aisle.

RUDIN: Not only does Ken Blackwell have to fight against the usual reluctance of some Republicans that vote for black candidates, but he also has the fact that the Republicans are in trouble in Ohio. What do you think about that?

Rev. WATKINS: Well, clearly, Ken Blackwell has to prove to the people of Ohio that he's the best person for the job, that he's not anybody else's person, he's not tagging along on somebody else's administration, that he's his own guy. And that's what he is. He's a very independent fellow, he's not in anybody's hip pocket, and I think he's proven that. And I think that's what makes him really compelling as a candidate.

RUDIN: Donna Brazile, the Republicans always say that they would like to recruit more and more African-American candidates, more candidates of color, to break into the Democrat's lock on the black vote. But do you get a sense that Democratic voters would vote for Ken Blackwell for governor?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well as secretary of state, he was able to pick up anywhere between 25 to 30 percent of the black vote. Look, he hails from Hamilton County, has a great reputation from Hamilton County. But as secretary of state, his record has been quite mixed.

Ken Blackwell, although he ran as an outsider, he's an insider. He was the secretary of state with an unpopular governor, Bob Taft. While he was able to win the primary, I think it's still an uphill battle for Ken Blackwell, along with other black candidates who are running statewide this political season.

But, of all the black candidates in the country, Ken Blackwell probably has a national reputation, a national following. He was the chair of the Kemp Campaign, I believe, Joe. Back in 1996 when Jack Kemp ran. So I think that this is going to be a very interesting race, but at the end of the day, the African-American community will vote their conscious and probably continue to vote Democratic.

RUDIN: Does the fact that you have an African-American on the Republican ticket, does that cause some kind of conflict among black voters? You know, I see that more and more younger black voters seem to be less reluctant to switch over the Republican Party than the older black voters.

Ms. BRAZILE: Well the tradition is that African-American Republicans are able to track anywhere between 15-35 percent of the black vote. And I think Ken Blackwell has proven that, Michael Still in Maryland has proven that, and other African-Americans running statewide--Michael Williams in Georgia has proven that. And I believe the Democratic party will rally behind Ted Strickland and ensure that he not only maintain his support among the black community, but also independents, who may be sick and tired of the Republicans and their failed policies and the corruption that's growing in the state as we speak.

RUDIN: Joe Watkins, what kind of appeal does a conservative Republican have, or conservative African-American Republican have, in the black community?

Mr. WATKINS: Well I think any candidate that has something to say to people that deals with the things they care about will get their attention. And the good thing about this race is that you have an African-American running for governor, who not only has a message, and momentum, and money, but he's also somebody who I think really will grab the attention of a lot of African-Americans. Donna said it right, when she said that a number of African-American candidates now have proven, again and again, that they, as Republicans, can get a percentage of the black vote.

The good thing is, is that for many African-Americans in the past, they and we, because I'm African-American also, have gone to the polls--I happen to be Republican--but many African-Americans have gone to the polls and have done what in the past has been culturally comfortable. Because, most of us do tend to be Democrat.

But now, African-Americans have a choice. They don't have to be forced to vote Democratic. They can vote anyway they want, and they can vote for the candidates they wish to vote for. And if they agree with the values that Ken Blackwell has--those, by the way, are the same values that I was raised with in my household, by my parents, my African-American parents--who are, I guess, from a voting standpoint, who in the past were Democrat. When people hear the values that Ken Blackwell has, and the vision that he has for the state of Ohio, he's going to get a good percentage of those votes.

RUDIN: I want to thank the two of you. Donna Brazile, thank you so much for being my guest. Donna Brazile the former campaign manager for Al Gore. She now runs her own political consulting firm here in Washington. And the Reverend Joe Watkins from a government relations group at Buchanan Ingersoll. Served on the first President Bush White House staff. Rev. Watkins, thank you so much for joining me. And I also want to thank Juan Williams for not showing up to work today. It gives me an opportunity to take over the show. Thank you both.

Ms. BRAZILE: Thank you, Ken.

Rev. WATKINS: Thanks, Ken.

RUDIN: Back to you, Ed.

GORDON: Thanks, Ken. Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. Join us every Thursday on Political Corner. And Juan Williams will be back next week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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