Sunday, June 06, 1999

Blackwell's latest foray under fire


Elections overseer runs Forbes camp

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ken Blackwell is catching flak from Democrats. There's a dog bites man story for you.

        Ever since Ken Blackwell signed on as Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes' national chairman a week or so ago, the Cincinnati Republican has been the target of some intense Democratic shelling.

        Ohio Democrats worked themselves into a lather over the fact that Mr. Blackwell is, after all, Ohio secretary of state. The chief elections officer of the state — the fellow charged with settling ballot disputes between and among candidates — should not be running anybody's campaign, they argued.

        Then, the heavy artillery on Capitol Hill started firing. Mr. Blackwell is also the Republican co-chair of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board. The 2000 census will have a lot to do with how legislative district lines are drawn the next time around.

        U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House committee overseeing the census, called on Mr. Blackwell to resign now that he is heading a GOP presidential contender's campaign.

        We've yet to hear anyone call on Mr. Blackwell's opposite number, Tony Coehlo, to step down. Mr. Coehlo was recently brought in to run Al Gore's foundering campaign.

        For his part, Mr. Blackwell has brushed off the criticism, saying he knows how to “walk and chew gum at the same time.”

        It's an interesting question, one that has never come up until Mr. Blackwell landed his very political self in the Ohio secretary of state's office. As long as have we have known Mr. Blackwell, from his days as a Cincinnati councilman, he has always had at least four or five irons in the fire.

        Asking Ken Blackwell to be non-political may be beyond the realm of possibility. You might as well ask the Dalai Lama to go easy on the spiritual stuff. We're used to considering first-time candidates for Cincinnati City Council as bottom-feeders — the carp of Cincinnati politics, trolling along the bottom of the pond for whatever sustenance they can find while the brighter and more colorful fish cavort near the surface.

        But this Pat DeWine fellow is not your typical first-time candidate.

        The Republican had nearly $100,000 in the bank by the end of last year. Heavens knows how much he has now — we won't find out for sure until the next campaign finance reports come about about three weeks before the November election.

        But trust us, it's a boatload of cash.

        It's not just that Mr. DeWine — son of U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine — has his own campaign Web site. That's not so special in this day and age; there are people who have set up Web sites for the family dog.

        But the DeWine campaign is already cranking out slickly packaged campaign brochures by the thousands, faxing press releases by the ream, and TV ads cannot be far behind.

        For all of its money and slickness, the DeWine campaign so far has tried to maintain a grass-roots air, with a fund-raising event at a bowling alley and, today, an old-fashioned ice cream social at the new west-side campaign headquarters. It's an idea the candidate borrowed from his dad, who has dished out ice cream at the family farm in Cedarville every summer for decades.

        But this is shaping up to be a very high-tech and very expensive campaign.

        At this point, there are nine non-incumbent candidates, Democrat and Republican, running for council. No matter what happens, two of them will be elected, because the term-limits law prevents Roxanne Qualls and Tyrone Yates from running for re-election.

        There are those who think that the DeWine campaign could end up raising and spending as much as the other eight combined.

        This is not a carp we are talking about. This is rainbow trout.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics for The Enquirer. He can be reached at 768-8388 or hwilkinson@enquirer.com

       



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