Without great fanfare and much to the dismay of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is entering the 2006 campaign cycle with not one or two, but three high-profile races of national significance that feature African-Americans as the likely GOP candidate.
In Maryland, the sitting Lieutenant Governor, Michael Steele, is the probable nominee in a race for an open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Paul Sarbanes. Maryland is a blue state that is trending red, and Mr. Steele's candidacy is so threatening as to have provoked the Sen. Chuck Schumer-led Democratic Senate Campaign Committee staff into illegally plundering Mr. Steele's credit records in a search for dirt. They didn't find any. The investigation into this wrongdoing is ongoing, but that sort of panic attack tells you that Mr. Steele is the real deal.
To the east are two crucial battleground states, one blue and one red, and both have contests for their governorships in 2006. In Pennsylvania, Democratic incumbent Ed Rendell fears most having to face USC and Pittsburgh Steeler great Lynn Swann. Mr. Swann is a traditional conservative, and Pennsylvania's conservative middle and western regions have always had to struggle to beat the urban core of Philly and Pittsburgh. He faces a primary battle but is favored to get the nomination and already leads Mr. Rendell in some polls.
And next door in Ohio, GOP voters seem likely to nominate sitting Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who is not only free of the taint of corruption surrounding the current and term-limited Gov. Bob Taft, but who is also a champion of conservative, pro-family voters. Mr. Blackwell stood up to the assault of the hard left in the aftermath of Ohio's key vote in the 2004 election, and he is a favorite of conservative activists across the country.
Each of these candidates is widely admired in their states, and each will appeal for and get the support of activists nationwide. They are not being supported because of their race but because of their character, achievements, and proposed policies. But there is an undeniable political benefit to the GOP of fielding a national team of candidates in a crucial year that is so obviously color-blind and merit-centric.