Why Ken Blackwell is bad for the GOP

Conservatives are lining up behind the former Ohio secretary of state's bid to head the RNC, but his victory could spell more electoral losses.

By Alex Koppelman

Published January 5, 2009 4:35PM (EST)

As a contentious race to head the Republican National Committee continues, a group of big-name conservatives have banded together to back former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell for the job. A look at some of the names on the list, however, shows exactly why choosing Blackwell might prove disastrous for the GOP.

The most powerful impression that the collection of endorsers gives is that Blackwell is the choice of some of the Christian right's most prominent leaders. Among others, there's James Dobson, who heads Focus on the Family, Tim LaHaye, co-author of the "Left Behind" series, former Attorney General Ed Meese, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins and Phyllis Schlafly.

Electing an RNC chair supported by this cast of characters would almost certainly mean that the Republican Party would fare even worse at the polls in the years to come than it has recently. Simply put, in large part because of the influence of the evangelical base, the party has marginalized itself. It's gotten older, whiter, more male and more conservative just as the country has been trending the opposite way. And it's been pushed back so that it's now almost an entirely Southern party. In order to win back the votes it has lost in places like the Mountain West and New England, the GOP needs to become more inviting, needs to tamp down the stridency of its appeals on social issues and broaden its appeal. The kind of RNC chair who'd be endorsed by Dobson isn't the kind of RNC chair who could achieve that.

And that's not the only issue with Blackwell's candidacy. As my friend Steve Benen points out, the man isn't exactly renowned for his competence and political acumen. He writes: 

I'm beginning to think Blackwell would be the best choice, at least from a Democratic perspective. Blackwell was a fairly ridiculous Ohio Secretary of State, and his most notable accomplishment -- running as the state's Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2006 -- turned out to be a complete trainwreck... [H]e's an awful manager who loathes compromise and seems to enjoy pitting people against one another, even within his own organizations. By the time Election Day 2006 rolled around, as I recall, Blackwell wasn't even especially popular with reliable Ohio Republican loyalists.

If the RNC chose to make him chairman, I suspect a lot of Democrats would be thrilled.

I was in Ohio for Election Day in 2006, and Benen's right: In the weeks before his loss, Blackwell's campaign became almost comically bad. He ended up losing to Democrat Ted Strickland by 23 percentage points.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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