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Inside Politics

Ohio's Blackwell used to spotlight

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell: "Take a deep breath and relax."
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CNN's Bill Schneider says three major issues were key for voters at the polls today.

Early reports show a record turnout at the polls today in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Provisional ballots are punch cards given to voters in Ohio who show up at the correct polling place and are not listed on the voters' list because they have moved or due to clerical errors.
  • The votes are set aside in sealed envelopes to be counted along with absentee ballots.
  • More than 109,000 provisional ballots were counted in 2000, about 90 percent of the total cast. The other ballots were ruled invalid.
  • Two weeks ago, a federal court in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled that provisional ballots must be submitted at the proper polling place.
    Sources: Ohio secretary of state's office, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
    America Votes 2004
    J. Kenneth Blackwell

    COLUMBUS, OHIO (CNN) -- Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell cut an imposing figure as he strode to the podium as Tuesday became Wednesday to address journalists and camera crews who had been waiting idly for hours for news of when Ohio's provisional ballots would be counted.

    Early Wednesday morning, President Bush was projected to have won 28 states and 254 electoral votes. Ohio's 20 electoral votes would give him four more than needed to win re-election.

    Blackwell said he could not say how many provisional and absentee ballots needed to be counted, but he said estimates were between 175,000 and 250,000.

    Bush held a lead of about 136,000 votes early Wednesday with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

    "What I've told everybody to do is take a deep breath and relax," Blackwell told the audience.

    The former Xavier University linebacker -- a onetime Dallas Cowboys draftee -- is used to the national spotlight. Some say he craves it and is using it to propel himself to higher office.

    He is used to national attention -- he's appeared on national news and interview shows such as "The O'Reilly Factor," "Crossfire," "Inside Politics," "The Jim Lehrer Newshour" and "Hardball With Chris Matthews."

    An article in The Cleveland Plain Dealer said Blackwell has earned the nickname "Inkwell" among the state Capitol press corps for his ability to make news.

    The late news conference was apparently a concession to members of the media angered that Blackwell had granted exclusive interviews to some networks in a studio hidden in the bowels of the state Capitol.

    Wearing an impeccably fitted slate gray suit with a pale yellow tie, Blackwell looked over the heads of the assembled media through his rimless glasses and began without preamble.

    "This has been a good day for Ohio," he said.

    He says the state's provisional ballots would be counted -- by the law.

    "What we're going to give you is a solid tabulation when we give it to you ... if it takes two hours, two days, or two weeks, the result we give you will be a good result that the voters of the state of Ohio can have confidence in," he said.

    Blackwell worked his way from Xavier to being elected mayor of Cincinnati, served as undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and was elected Ohio's state treasurer before winning his current office in 2000.

    Critics say he's using the provisional ballot controversy as a national platform.

    Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman on Friday accused Blackwell of putting a future run for governor above the voters of Ohio, The Plain Dealer reported.

    "Mr. Blackwell's worked very hard to become the center of attention in Ohio," The Plain Dealer quoted Coleman as saying.

    Blackwell makes no secret he aspires to higher office.

    "What I've told people over the years is that I was running for governor," he recently told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "The reality is, I've enjoyed my job as secretary of state. I'm a constitutional officer of the state. I get to talk about Ohio issues."

    He seems to take comparisons to the last secretary of state involved in a presidential election controversy in stride.

    After his provisional ballot decision, a group of Democrats gathered outside his office with fliers depicting pictures of Blackwell next to those of Katherine Harris, The Plain Dealer reported, and calling him "the next Katherine Harris."

    Harris was Florida's secretary of state in 2000 when the election debacle there had to be sorted out before the race was decided. Harris was also the state's Bush-Cheney campaign chairman, as Blackwell is serving as in Ohio this year.

    He poked fun at the comparison on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" on October 8: "Let me just say, last time I checked, I was very comfortable in my masculinity and I'm not looking for a sex change."

    And he seemed to take the comparison as a compliment when he talked to Newsweek in its October 18 issue: "The last time I checked, Katherine Harris wasn't in a soup line, she's in Congress."

    CNN's Alanne Orjoux contributed to this report.

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