July 09, 2006
Blackwell to rule on independent conservative candidacy in OH-15

(Crossposted at the Daily Kos)

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, the Republican nominee for Governor who is notorious for alleged election irregularities under his tenure, will have to make a tie-breaking decision on whether to allow conservative Charlie Morrison to get on the ballot as an independent in the race for Ohio's 15th district, against seven-term incumbent Republican Deborah Pryce and Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy, her Democratic challenger. Morrison, a hard-line conservative who has said that he wouldn't mind a Kilroy victory one bit, is almost certain to weaken Pryce's chances in a three-way race; the GOP opposes his candidacy on the grounds that he has established party affiliation by voting in the Republican primary.

After a tie vote by the Franklin County Board of Elections along party lines, Blackwell will have to make the final decision. Ironically, Blackwell is in a situtation very similar to that of former Ohio Secretary of State Sherrod Brown, now the Democratic nominee for Senate, who ruled in 1984 that Blackwell could run in the Republican primary despite voting in the Democratic primary of 1980.

Charlie Morrison has stated that he wants to "shake things up", that President Bush's remarks are among the dumbest things he's ever heard, and that he wouldn't mind Democratic control of Congress as a check on Bush. He has agreed with GOP charges that he is a "disgruntled Republican", saying "They want me to toe the line, help them out, throw money at them," and that he has quit the party. He's running his campaign on anti-immigration, supporting a 12-foot high fence along both the Mexican and Canadian borders (his web page on the issue prominently quotes the views of country rocker Charlie Daniels); reduced deficits and national debt; lower taxes, in particular a flat rate for federal income tax of no more than 15%; and anti-abortion. Pryce defeated him easily in primary challenges in 2002 and 2004, but he got six to seven thousand votes in those contests that might tip the balance in a three-way race.

Early indications suggest that Pryce, who has won re-election by over 60% since entering Congress in 1992, may be fighting for survival this time around. Like many Ohio Republicans, she is tarnished by last year's harrowing revelations of corruption in the Ohio GOP, and by her role as a "rubber stamping" associate of the House Republican leadership and President Bush. Bush eked out just 50.3% in the district in 2004, and Franklin County, 87% of which is in the district, went blue. This spring, MoveOn.org ran TV ads in the Columbus area accusing Pryce of accepting $100,000 from the pharma companies, and then voting for the prescription-drug bill that prevents Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices; two Sinclair-owned stations took the ad off the air after a written complaint from her campaign manager. The strongest sign of concern in her campaign was the fact that they began TV advertising in June, which they didn't start until October in 2004. By April they had already raised more cash ($1.5 million) than in the entire 2004 campaign ($1.15 million), and have recently added more campaign staff, as well as hiring GOP-associated media and polling firms.

Democratic challenger Mary Jo Kilroy, who supported Howard Dean in 2004, is on the DCCC's Red to Blue list of Democratic challengers with a significant chance of defeating Republican incumbents in Congress this year. An internal poll by the Kilroy campaign in March found that she was already within the margin of error, eight months before the election, with Kilroy at 41% and Pryce at 44% and a MoE of ?4%, despite Pryce's position as an incumbent with significantly greater name recognition.

It's hard to predict how Blackwell will rule on the Morrison candidacy. Obviously, Morrison's presence on the ballot is likely to make things even more difficult for his party ally Pryce. On the other hand, Morrison is the same sort of far-out conservative that Blackwell is, and he is closely tied to issues that Blackwell has supported. Morrison is represented in the election dispute by Cincinnati lawyer David Langdon, who was co-author of the Ohio consitutional amendment to ban gay marriages that Blackwell vigorously advocated. Langdon also drafted another amendment to limit state and local taxes and expenditures, which Blackwell supports.

The Franklin County GOP claims that Morrison is ineligible to appear on the ballot due to a rule preventing a candidate from running for a party within two years of voting in another party's primary. (Registering to vote in a primary establishes party affiliation in Ohio.) He also ran for leadership posts in state and local party committees. Morrison concedes that he voted in the Republican primary, but the trouble with this argument, of course, is that he wants to run as an independent, not a Republican, and has clearly distanced himself from the party.

In 1984, a similar rule was in place, which at the time forbade a party switch within four years rather than two. Blackwell wanted to run in the Republican primary for a House seat from the Cincinnati area, but he had voted in the Democratic primary in 1980. Then, as now, the vote of the county Board of Elections on the matter resulted in a tie, so it was escalated to the Secretary of State, who at the time was Sherrod Brown, now the Democratic nominee for Senator from Ohio. Brown decided to allow Blackwell on the ballot, on the grounds that the four-year rule was unsconstitutional, in view of contemporary court decisions.

Although this is a local election dispute, the stakes are fairly high. A questionable decision by Blackwell would contribute further to the appearance of impropriety in the electoral process under his direction that is currently plaguing Ohio. A Kilroy victory, which she might very well achieve in a two-way race, may help turn the House over to a Democratic majority, ending the days of the rubber stamp. And current trends suggest that the purplish Buckeye state will turn blue in 2006, which would send out a significant message to national politics, especially in the runup to 2008.

Send a little love to Blue Buckeye candidates:

Mary Jo Kilroy for Congress, OH-15

Sherrod Brown for Senate

Ted Strickland for Governor, Ken Blackwell's opponent

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