Brace yourself, America. I'm going to stick my neck out and make a prediction.
I'm going to predict a future presidential matchup that, I guarantee you, is just as reliable as any other serious long-range political prediction.
Here it is: Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois vs. Republican Gov. J. Kenneth Blackwell of Ohio.
I know, I know that at least a couple of things have to fall into place before this scenario can materialize.
First, Blackwell, now Ohio's secretary of state, will have to beat his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland. That won't be easy. A psychologist and ordained minister from southeastern Ohio's rural Appalachian region, Strickland has enough conservative appeal to hold an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association.
Nevertheless, after winning Ohio's Republican gubernatorial primary May 2, as pollsters predicted he would, Blackwell has a lot of excitement on his side. He represents a racial milestone. Victory in November could make him this country's only elected black governor in its history besides Virginia Democrat L. Douglas Wilder, now mayor of Richmond, who was elected governor in 1990.
That is, unless former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann, who has no opponent in Pennslyvania's May 16 Republican gubernatorial primary, upsets Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.
Yes, there are two black gubernatorial nominees this year and they're both Republicans. Add the Senate races of Maryland's Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and Michigan's Keith Butler and you can see why Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman is smiling about his efforts to woo black voters back to the party of Abe Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Yet, despite Mehlman's high hopes, none of the four contenders mentioned above is favored at present to win in November. Swann is a much-beloved figure in Pennsylvania, but a political novice running against the seasoned Rendell. Butler's been trailing another Republican candidate in polls and fundraising. Steele may well be nominated, then run up against a wall of resistance in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans almost two-to-one.
Blackwell has the biggest profile, nationally and physically. At 6-feet-5 and 255 pounds, the former linebacker and Cincinnati mayor surprises you in-person with his imposing size and presence. Often campaigning with a Bible in his hand, Blackwell rallied evangelical Christians and fiscal conservatives to win his party's nomination. But now his aspirations are burdened by his state party's ethics and corruption scandals, including Republican Gov. Bob Taft's pleading no contest to ethics violations last year.
Nevertheless, even in a weakened Republican field, it's hard to count Blackwell out. Like Obama, whose national profile surged after his stunning come-together speech at the 2004 National Democratic Convention, Blackwell also surged to national prominence that year, although under less harmonious circumstances: He served simultaneously as Ohio's chief election official and as state co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign.
As such, Blackwell caught the blame from Democrats for long lines and a shortage of voting machines in predominately black polling places. He threw the flack right back, arguing that both white and black areas were swamped by a huge unexpected turnout. It remains to be seen how much the bitter memories of that episode will hurt Blackwell among black voters and others who might otherwise want to give him a break.
Nevertheless, Blackwell has done surprisingly well among black voters in the past, compared to most Republicans anyway, and his turnout among white and black evangelicals shows enough strength in the Republican base to potentially surprise his detractors.
As a result, questions inevitably come up, as they have with Obama, about a Blackwell presidential run. The 2008 race would be too soon for either man, judging by the way the wind came out of former Sen. John Edwards' (D-N.C.) sails in 2004 when he ran for president and vice president before his first-and-only Senate term was done. But, 2012? Hey, it could happen.
After all, the rising prominence of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has led more than a few people to seriously contemplate the possibility of two women running against each other for president. Rice is not likely to do it, judging by the many ways she has found to say "No" whenever the question has been raised. But, if two women running against each other does not appear too likely, what about two black candidates running against each other?
Imagine the rising Democratic star Obama running against a Republican whom a Chicago Tribune story called "The anti-Obama."
At last we could say that a true diversity of black views finally was being represented on the national tickets.
And remember: You heard it here first.