The implosion of Ken Blackwell

As his campaign steadily drops in the polls, the Republican candidate for Ohio's governorship is getting desperate.

Published October 20, 2006 6:38PM (EDT)

At some point, you almost have to feel sorry for poor Ken Blackwell. Behind by up to 28 points in some polls, the villain of Ohio's 2004 election debacle may really have to steal an election if he wants to win this November's governor's race.

But Blackwell and his supporters have made it awfully hard to sympathize.

At the moment someone -- and we're not saying it was someone in the Blackwell campaign, though it apparently was a Blackwell fan -- is mounting a challenge to Democratic candidate's Ted Strickland's voter registration, charging that Strickland doesn't live where he says he does. And if that's true, then Strickland could potentially be disqualified as an Ohio voter, meaning, under state law, that he would be ineligible to run for governor.

The person who would ultimately be responsible for deciding whether Strickland is eligible to vote, not to mention run?

That would be Ken Blackwell, Ohio secretary of state ... and Republican candidate for governor.

Of course, it might look a little unseemly to disqualify your own opponent, especially when he's so far ahead in the polls. So the Blackwell campaign is taking a cue from recent national headlines and calling Strickland a child molester by proxy. Lately, Blackwell and his supporters have been accusing Strickland of knowingly employing an aide once convicted of exposing himself to two little girls. And that is, well, sort of true. But Strickland says he didn't really know about it; in 1998, he claims, he got an anonymous tip about the 1994 conviction and confronted the aide, who denied any such incident. Then, in 1999, the aide left the office.

But not before the two took a trip to Italy together, apparently -- a trip that right-wing radio host Bill Cunningham described, on Fox's "Hannity & Colmes" Wednesday night, as "a little fun with his 26-year-old boy toy." (Strickland, who is married, denies being gay; lawyers for Cunningham have also denied that he is gay.)

And it's not as if the Blackwell campaign would ever endorse such scurrilous rumor-mongering about its opponent. But it did think that voters deserved to know that those rumors had been discussed in the national media -- so the campaign YouTubed a clip of Cunningham's appearance with Hannity, then posted it to its Web site and e-mailed it to supporters and reporters. And then the campaign invited Cunningham and Hannity to speak at a campaign event.

But none of this has had quite the result the Blackwell campaign might have hoped. Today, appalled by the behavior of Blackwell and his supporters, Findlay, Ohio's Courier newspaper took the rare step of unendorsing a candidate, writing:

"While Blackwell may still get some of our individual votes, he's lost our endorsement, for whatever it's worth. His total nastiness at the Monday debate with his opponent, Democrat Ted Strickland, has proven that he's really not the kind of man we need as our next governor. Personal attacks of dubious accuracy should have no place in a political campaign. As Strickland said, 'Mr. Blackwell, you should be ashamed of yourself.'"

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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