Op-Ed: Democrat Courting Gun Owners in Ohio

By Gerard Valentino

(This commentary has also been published at CNSNews.com)

The Ohio Republican Party is setting the stage for the end of its control over state government for the first time in over 15 years. Unfortunately, at the same time, the Ohio GOP may also be setting up the national party for failure in the 2008 presidential election.

And it all boils down to a pro-gun bill that Republicans should expect their leadership to support.

Look no further than the Ohio governor's race, where Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Republican, is running against U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Democrat.

Polls show that Strickland is the front runner, having established himself as the presumptive Democratic candidate early in the election season. He then had the luxury of sitting back and watching as the Republicans slugged it out for their nomination.

Although Blackwell was not seriously threatened by his main challenger, Attorney General Jim Petro, the effort required to assure victory may have damaged his chances in the November general election.

Blackwell is a moving and polished public speaker who spent months in the limelight after he oversaw the close 2004 Ohio Presidential election. His low-tax, small government agenda appeals to many conservatives -- and he also runs strong among African-American voters, a voting block that Republicans have failed to court successfully in the past.

Ted Strickland's moderate record stands in stark contrast to the more liberal agenda of other Democrats such as Senator Hillary Clinton, John Edwards or Senator John Kerry. Strickland also would bring the Democrat ticket a strong pro-gun advocate which they've lacked in recent memory.

Strickland is openly courting gun owners in Ohio, and he recently castigated the Republican leadership for scuttling HB347, a bill designed to fix Ohio's current concealed carry law.

Pro-gun voters desperately want the bill to pass. Strickland's outspoken support of the bill may help him garner a large percentage of pro-gun voters, whereas Blackwell's decision to sit back and let the Ohio Republican leadership delay HB347 has hurt his position with gun-owners.

Click 'Read More' for the entire commentary.

If the Ohio Republican leadership continues to stall HB347, or if it guts the bill prior to passage, they will push even more pro-gun voters into the Strickland camp.

Many in the pro-gun movement were hoping that Blackwell would push the bill and force current Republican Governor Bob Taft to drop his veto threat.

Instead, Blackwell's silence on the issue has been deafening. Blackwell is further hurt by his GOP association, since it is Senate Republicans who are refusing to pass HB347. In the past, Republican gubernatorial candidates have run on a pro-gun platform only to throw gun owners under the bus after the election.

When the Ohio Democratic Party stands up for a gun bill currently being opposed by Republican Senate President Bill Harris and Republican Governor Bob Taft, it sound a loud wake-up call for the Ohio GOP. It is also a sad day for Ohio's gun owners, who stood by Taft and the Republicans over the years.

More importantly, on the national stage, the situation may bode poorly for the GOP's chance to hold the state in 2006 -- and beyond, in 2008.

Recent history clearly shows the power of Ohio's gun-vote. Those voters turned on John Kerry in 2004 after his patronizing goose-hunting trip, and gun voters also were largely credited with making a difference in Al Gore's failed run for the presidency in 2000.

Unfortunately, gun owners statewide are slowly starting to abandon the Republican ship, which is the only option they see to get a viable concealed carry law. Such a shameful turn of events puts Blackwell in a tenuous position at best. He cannot win the state without strong support from the middle of the road gun-owner -- who now has every reason to vote for Ted Strickland.

That puts Taft's veto-threat and the Republican Senate's decision to stall HB347 at the heart of the Ohio gubernatorial race. Each day Taft and Senator Harris continue to put their anti-gun view ahead of their constituents and their Party, it further erodes the pro-gun Republican base.

Their decision to do so could put a Democrat in the Ohio governor's mansion for the first time in over a decade.

And having a pro-gun Democratic governor on the campaign trial, or possibly on the 2008 presidential ticket, could be just enough to swing the 60,000 votes needed to put the state, and likely the presidency, to Democrats column in 2008.

Gerard Valentino is the Buckeye Firearms Association Central Ohio Chair.

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