Will Ohio gun owners go for the Democrat?

By Gerard Valentino

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

Ohio Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell has been described by some conservatives as a rising political star.

Blackwell's platform includes support for the Second Amendment right to bear arms as well as fiscal and social conservatism. But that apparently hasn't helped him, as the latest polls put him between 4 and 20 points behind the Democratic nominee Rep. Ted Strickland.

Yet, Blackwell has stayed true to his conservative base and refuses to run to the center.

Blackwell, regardless of his conservative pedigree, is tainted by the two previous GOP governors, Bob Taft and George Voinovich, who for sixteen years between them, held up legal concealed carry in Ohio.

Now as the 2006 gubernatorial race comes down to the final weeks, gun owners have a hard choice to make: trust Ken Blackwell to change the face of Ohio's liberal GOP -- or make a deal with the perceived devil and vote Democrat Ted Strickland into office.

Gun owners statewide are fed up with a Republican Party that continues to allow Governor Bob Taft's veto threat to thwart or kill pro-gun bills. It was just such a threat by Governor Taft that left Ohio with the worst legal concealed carry law in the nation.

Now, as the fix-it bill, HB347, makes its way through the legislature, history is repeating itself with one significant difference.

Rep. Ted Strickland, the Democrat's nominee for governor, has bucked his Party leadership by voting for congressional legislation backed by gun groups.

Even heat applied by the liberal mayors of Ohio's biggest cities did not sway Strickland from his pro-gun stance. He even went so far as to demand immediate passage of Ohio HB347, the sweeping pro-gun bill that is being blocked by Republican Senate President Bill Harris.

The Blackwell campaign countered by writing a letter directly to Senator Harris, demanding that he bring up the bill for a vote. But it appeared to some gun voters as a last desperate gasp to win over their vote.

Neither Strickland's press release nor Blackwell's letter prompted Senator Harris to move the bill, and it remains bottled up in the Senate without a chance of being voted on prior to the election.

Sen. Harris claims that a veto by current Governor Bob Taft will further damage the GOP's reputation among gun owners. What he fails to understand is that Ohio gun owners long ago lost faith in Taft, and they now see the rest of the Party as weak for not standing up to a governor with a 14 percent approval rating.

Seeing a weakness, Strickland has made political hay by claiming he would sign HB347 the minute it reached his desk, further exposing the split in the GOP camp. (Some believe the Republican Legislature would let the bill die rather than let a Democratic governor sign it.)

Some Ohio gun owners are wondering if there is anything left to lose by putting an avowed pro-gun Democrat in the governor's mansion.

Current polls show Ted Strickland with big leads, suggesting that many gun owners are willing to take a chance on him -- a make the proverbial deal with the devil.

But gun owners may also want to consider what influence a Strickland victory could have on the outcome of the next presidential election: Does a deal with the devil mean Ohio gun owners may be forced to deal with a liberal Democrat as president in 2008?

Gerard Valentino is the Buckeye Firearms Association Central Ohio Chair.

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