ED GORDON, host:
I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES. Now for a recap of this week's news from inside the Beltway, we got to NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams and his political insiders on Political Corner. Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:
Thanks, Ed. I'm in Columbia, South Carolina today promoting my new book, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead End Movements and Culture of Failure that are Undermining Black America, and What we Can Do About It. So I'm speaking to you by phone today. It's an unusual situation.
But we're joined by our regular stellar cast. Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland. His latest book is called Freedom is Not Enough. And Reverend Joseph Watkins, a member of the government relations firm at Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney. Reverend Watkins was a member of the first President Bush's White House staff. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us on Political Corner.
Reverend JOSEPH WATKINS (Member, Government Relations Group, Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney): Good to be with you, Juan.
Professor RON WALTERS (Political Science, University of Maryland, Author, Freedom is Not Enough): Thanks, Juan.
WILLIAMS: Let's start with the Ohio gubernatorial race. You've got the Republican, an African-American, J. Kenneth Blackwell, running against Ted Strickland, and now Strickland has a double-digit lead - more than 20 points in the polls. And Blackwell is rallying the Christian ministers in the state because of the conservative stance that Blackwell takes on marriage, abortion, taxation.
If you think back, this is the same group of ministers that passed the Ohio State Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Joe Watkins, is this going to work for Blackwell? Is this the ticket? The only way that he can beat Strickland?
Rev. WATKINS: I don't think it's the only way, but certainly it's the smart thing to do. To play, of course, to his base and that's what he's doing. It's unusual to see groups get together so early on in the campaign. Normally we wait, or group's wait, ‘til after the Labor Day holiday to really become focused and vocal. But this group is being mobilized now.
I think it's a very smart move on Blackwell's part. He has some ground to make up and I think this group can help him make it up by really rallying the troops on the values issues.
WILLIAMS: Well, are there any other issues that would appeal to the broader electorate, and how African-Americans reacting to him?
Rev. WATKINS: Well, I think African-Americans have responded well to Blackwell in the past. Remember, this is somebody who's not a newcomer to Ohio politics. He was a Bush - that is a George Herbert Walker Bush - appointee. And then after that, he was elected twice to statewide office. And now the challenge is for him to bring Democrats, people who were not able to support him in the primary perhaps, into the fold to support him in a very loud and visible way in the general.
WILLIAMS: Ron Walters, are black ministers in this coalition?
Prof. WALTERS: As a matter of fact, he had two meetings with groups of ministers. One in Columbus that was largely white, and then in Cincinnati, which is pretty much his political base, where he was a member of the city council for a long time. He had some black ministers in that group.
What he's trying to do really, is to capitalize on his own strength. As a matter of fact, in some of his statewide races he took almost 40 percent of the black vote. But the word is going out that blacks should vote a split ticket. In other words, vote for whoever they want to vote for, be that Democrat, Republican, or whatever.
Now, there's a question as to how attractive that message is going to be, given a lot of things that have happened since then. Like Katrina and like the continuing problem of the war, and the economic situation in the state of Ohio.
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, what's interesting here is that, in fact, Blackwell is struggling within the Republican Party. So I'm wondering, Joseph Watkins, if you hear about Senator Voinovich, you hear about some who are considered, I guess, more moderate, less evangelical in their taste in the Republican Party. Are they supporting Ken Blackwell?
Rev. WATKINS: Well, of course, this happens - when you have bruising primaries and when you are as outspoken a person as Ken Blackwell has been on issues, when you have certainly differed visibly, openly, with other members of your party, there's a price to be paid for that, and think this is some of the price.
But there's still time to mend those fences and make sure that the other Republicans in the party, in the state are onboard with him.
WILLIAMS: Well, let's - we only have a few minutes left, gentlemen. I want to touch on two quick issues. One, Senator Biden in his bid for the Democratic nomination for 2008, says that his state, Delaware, is nothing like a northeastern state, should not be treated that way. I'm quoting here. He says, my state has the eight largest black population in the country. My state is anything but a northeast liberal state.
Joe Watkins, what do you think about this? You live in neighboring Pennsylvania.
Rev. WATKINS: I do indeed, and I know Joe Biden well. He's a very bright man. He is clearly saying this because there are some who say that he can't run effectively. He's saying it's because it's of John Edwards being a South Carolina favorite son, and also Mark Warner. These are two guys who are expected to be candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2008.
What it fails to do is it fails to realize the fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton has a huge lead on the Democratic side of the aisle in the race for the presidency in 2008. And while he may be fighting against John Warner - I'm sorry - John Edwards and Mark Warner, Biden better set his sights on other people like Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry and various others. And Al Gore, all of whom, of course, loom as real favorites for that nomination.
WILLIAMS: Ron Walters, if I was to ask you as a political pro, not who has the lead among all Democrats as we head towards the nomination, but who has the lead among African-Americans, among Hispanic Democrats, what would your answer be?
Prof. WALTERS: Al Gore. I think that's probably a very strange result, but somewhere between Al Gore and Hillary Clinton. She has, right now, the pizzazz in the polls and the visibility in the media. And so it's clear that people see her a lot, and from the standpoint of name recognition, they would say she was a hit.
But when people have listened to Al Gore - I've been a part of any number of discussions where people say he is the hardest hitting person in the Democratic Party leadership right now.
WILLIAMS: And how's Biden doing among blacks and African-Americans, especially in a state like the one I'm in, South Carolina.
Prof. WALTERS: Not at all. You know, there's a long memory in the black community. And a lot of people think that when he was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he alone really, could've stopped Clarence Thomas' ascension to the Supreme Court. But he didn't do it. As a matter of act, I would say that Biden really was the key. And if he had acted, Clarence Thomas would not be there today.
WILLIAMS: Ron Walters is a professor of political science at the University of Maryland. His latest book, Freedom is Not Enough. And Reverend Joseph Watkins, a member of the first President Bush's White House staff. Reverend Watkins is a member of the government relations group, Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney. Gentlemen, thank you for joining me on Political Corner this week.
Rev. WATKINS: Thanks, Juan.
Prof. WALTERS: Thank you, Juan.
WILLIAMS: Back to you, Ed.
GORDON: Thanks, Juan. Don't forget to join us here every Thursday for Juan Williams and his Washington insiders right here on Political Corner.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.