$4M convinced Blackwell

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Exactly what kind of epiphany did Ken Blackwell experience last week to give up his plan to challenge Bob Taft for the gubernatorial nomination and run for secretary of state?

Did he don the hair shirt and shut himself away for some soul-searching before deciding to give way?

Was he strolling down Broad Street in Columbus when the clouds parted, bathing him in a stream of light as the scales dropped from his eyes?

Well, no.

Actually, after months - long and torturous months for Mr. Taft - all it took for the high sachems of Ohio Republican politics to persuade Mr. Blackwell to give up his plan to pick a bloody primary fight was, to show him the money.

Money talks, all else walks in politics.

In the end, after months of hints and feints in which Mr. Blackwell looked for all the world like a living, breathing gubernatorial candidate, all Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett had to do was convince Mr. Blackwell he could put together a $4 million campaign pot. Suddenly the secretary of state's office became the thing Mr. Blackwell wanted more than anything in the world.

Mr. Bennett ran the money-raising for the Let's-Send-Ken-to-Camp fund like a United Way campaign - everybody had to come up with their fair share.

One million from the state party. Another $1 million from the Cincinnati money crowd. A third million from the rest of the Republican faithful around the state, and a fourth million raised by Mr. Blackwell himself.

No bake sales. No office raffles. Just big checks, with lots of zeroes.

Hamilton County GOP Chairman Mike Allen was called in by Mr. Bennett to help line up party chairmen around the state to put pressure on Mr. Blackwell. Mr. Allen helped, too, with the effort to persuade Cincinnati's deep pockets to get behind the effort, even though many have something of a short fuse when it comes to the subject of Mr. Blackwell these days.

A lot of the people who routinely finance GOP statewide campaigns were feeling a bit jerked around by Mr. Blackwell's coy posturing the past year, always dropping hints and pulling up just short of saying he would run for governor.

After all, Mr. Blackwell's teasing was giving their anointed candidate, Mr. Taft, a bad case of the yips; he didn't know if he would have to face a costly and probably ugly primary battle on his way to the governor's mansion. The money crowd wanted a happy, contented and unharmed gubernatorial candidate for the fall campaign, not some scratch-and-dent model.

Some say Mr. Blackwell was looking for the same kind of deal Mr. Taft got eight years ago, when he backed away from challenging George Voinovich for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Whatever the motivation, Mr. Blackwell's short-lived gubernatorial ''candidacy'' was an enormous gamble, even for a politician who is used to living close to the edge.

It left a lot of Ohio Republican leaders in a very bad mood. These are people who do not like to be jerked around; if there is any jerking to be done, they are going to do it.

They are left in a position where they now have to raise an incredible amount of money for a candidate who is going to have a hard time convincing people that secretary of state is an office he really wants.

His likely opponent: State Rep. Charleta Tavares, D- Columbus, who may go to the voters with a very simple message:

I actually want this job; he doesn't.

Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.

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