- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2000

By endorsing Social Security reform, George W. Bush has shown he is willing to make bold moves to win the White House and move the nation forward. He should do the same thing when he selects his running mate. While there are many good candidates to join the Republican ticket, perhaps the best option would be Ohio's secretary of state, Ken Blackwell.

Mr. Blackwell is not well known nationally, but he satisfies every criteria Mr. Bush should meet when picking who will lead the party to victory in November. More specifically, Mr. Blackwell has the following attributes:

• Proven winner: Many candidates look good on paper, but politics also depends on intangible factors. Simply stated, some politicians connect with voters and some do not. The easiest way to judge whether a candidate has this ability is to see whether they have won and whether they have won contested elections. Ken Blackwell passes this test. He has run twice for statewide election in Ohio and he has won both times by double-digit margins. And even though Ohio leans Republican, former Sens. John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum are ample proof that Democrats can win this state.

• Geographic diversity: While the value of picking a running mate from a different part of the country is probably overrated (Bill Clinton, after all, picked Al Gore from a neighboring state), it is still a good idea to have a balanced ticket. This is especially true if the nominee for vice president comes from a big state that otherwise would be competitive. Ken Blackwell is a smart choice on this basis. Ohio is a swing state, and Mr. Blackwell presumably would make the Republican ticket a strong favorite.

• Grasp of issues: As a general rule, being Ohio's secretary of state does not prepare a policy-maker for the types of issues that dominate national politics. Fortunately, Ken Blackwell is not the average secretary of state. His background includes a stint as mayor of Cincinnati, an educator at Xavier University, a presidential appointee as deputy undersecretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a stint as U.S. ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission. He also was a member of the National Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform, and has developed his own education plan for Ohio. In short, Mr. Blackwell is one of the most substantive elected officials in the nation.

• Party unity: One of George W. Bush's challenges is to unite the GOP and activate the party's base. Ken Blackwell will help make this possible. Unlike some of the other possible running mates, Mr. Blackwell is a strong supporter of the principles that motivate grass-roots Republicans. His selection would trigger enthusiasm rather than discontent. The fact that Mr. Blackwell originally served as a national chairman for the Forbes campaign would be an added blessing since it would show Mr. Bush acknowledges the need to appeal to voters who preferred other candidates.

• Strength of character: One of Ken Blackwell's best features is that he fights for what he thinks is right, even when it puts him at odds with the rest of the Republican establishment. When every other statewide Republican supported a referendum to increase the sales tax, the voters agreed with Mr. Blackwell and rejected the measure by an overwhelming margin. Many Republicans are reluctant to tangle with the bosses who control the teacher unions. Not Mr. Blackwell. He is pushing a school choice plan for Ohio. State and local politicians overwhelmingly favor new taxes on the Internet, but Mr. Blackwell has said the economic vitality of the nation is more important than the greed for new sources of state and local tax revenue. These are just a few examples of Ken Blackwell fighting for what is right instead of going along to get along.

• The surprise factor: It just so happens that Ken Blackwell is an African-American. Without question, he would not want to be added to the ticket for this reason. George W. Bush presumably would never add him to the ticket for this reason. And voters, it is hoped, would cast their votes in November on the basis of the candidates' qualifications for the offices of president and vice president and not consider race. Having said all this, however, there can be little doubt that the Democratic ticket would be discombobulated by the prospect of facing a Bush-Blackwell ticket.

Ken Blackwell is destined for the national stage. He has the right combination of political skills and intellectual depth to be a winner. The only question is whether George W. Bush will advance the timetable by adding him to the ticket in 2000.

Daniel J. Mitchell is the McKenna senior fellow in political economy at the Heritage Foundation.

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