JULIE CARR SMYTH
COLUMBUS — Ohio’s feisty ex-elections chief announced Friday that he won’t run in 2012 for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Sherrod Brown.
Republican Ken Blackwell made his intentions known in an interview with The Daily Caller, for which he’s a columnist, and later in a brief statement on Twitter: “I am not running for the United States Senate.”
Political observers who view Blackwell as a strong potential match for Brown in a closely divided political state rapidly spread the news across the Web.
Blackwell is a former state treasurer and was Ohio’s secretary of state during the contentious 2004 presidential election. He held a lead in early polling among potential GOP contenders to unseat Brown. Polls still favor Brown to retain the seat.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Blackwell said he weighed the Senate bid for 90 days and decided he is in a better position to advance his agenda where he is.
“I decided I am blessed by a gracious God, a loving family, and a group of colleagues that are caring and competent, and I’m financially comfortable,” he said. “I look at what my ambitions are in terms of furthering an agenda now sharply defined as a constitutional-conservative agenda, and I would prefer to do it from an executive office as opposed to a legislative process where it’s constant trading off.”
Since his unsuccessful run for governor in 2006, Blackwell has been visible nationally as a conservative commentator, author and contender for chairman of the Republican National Committee. His announcement leaves former state Sen. Kevin Coughlin and Treasurer Josh Mandel in the field of likely Republican primary contenders.
Ohio Democrats celebrated Blackwell’s decision not to run. They had already begun blasting him as extreme and built a website called Ken Blackwell’s Book Club, featuring quotes from his conservative writings.
The state Democratic Party also wasted no time in bashing the remaining candidates.
“Ohio Republicans now find themselves left with two candidates who have done nothing to stand up to their party’s efforts to end Medicare as we know it, keep tax breaks for Big Oil, or dismantle Ohio’s middle-class,” said Justin Barasky, the party’s press secretary.
“We leave it to the GOP to decide if they would rather nominate an ethically challenged and newly elected treasurer who promised to serve the full four years of his term, or a do-nothing former state senator,” Barasky said.
Mandel, a U.S. Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and a former state representative, has filed paperwork to run for the office but has not publicly acknowledged he’s pursuing the post. Democrats have made an issue of his short tenure.
They have also filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission, alleging information was improperly shared between his state office and his campaign. Mandel was quoted in The Blade of Toledo this week calling the complaint baseless.
Coughlin issued a statement Friday calling Blackwell “a conservative hero” who would have been a formidable opponent.
“Ken’s decision strengthens my resolve to run. I am the proven conservative in this race,” Coughlin said. “I have a record of getting things done and the courage to change Washington. To reclaim America, our party must capture 12 seats in the United States Senate. But it is not enough for us to just elect 12 Republicans. We must elect the right Republicans.”
Coughlin recently ran up against Summit County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff and lost, joining an unsuccessful bid to retake the party that the powerful Arshinkoff has built into one of the strongest county parties in the country.
Coughlin hinted at the feud Friday, saying it won’t stop him.
“Money and the establishment cannot compete with principle, message, conviction and a proven record,” his statement said.
For his part, Blackwell said he will continue to fight for conservative causes through national leadership organizations and keep his ambitions in check for now. He declined to say whether another run for the Ohio’s governor’s office, currently held by Republican John Kasich, was in his future.
“My preferences over four decades of public life have run toward executive leadership,” he said. “Over the next four to eight years, Kasich has the big enchilada wrapped up.”
A native of Cincinnati, Blackwell joked that a victory over Brown would also make him Ohio’s least senior senator — after fellow southwest Ohioan Rob Portman.
“On a more humorous note, having Rob Portman call me ‘junior’ would be more than I could bear,” Blackwell said.