Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Blackwell on Countdown


November 29, 2004

Recount Si, Jesse No
Keith Olbermann

NEW YORK - We have been inviting Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to appear on Countdown since we began to cover the voting irregularities story on November 8th.

It struck me as not quite coincidental that he finally joined us the same day the Ohio GOP issued what might be the first Republican recognition of any kind that there are questions about the vote - a news release with the gaudy headline “Democrats Struggle to Justify Unnecessary Recount / (Jesse) Jackson swoops in to fuel conspiracy theories even Kerry lawyers admit are baseless.”

While it was the Greens and Libertarians filing for the recount, the Republicans seemed to prefer silence. But after Jackson spoke in Columbus Sunday and Cincinnati Monday, suddenly Mr. Blackwell was available. “I think what happened,” he said, “is that Jesse Jackson ran around the block and tried to get out in front of a parade that was already on the march.”

That’s an odd phrase. Show of hands, please! Who out of the 20% who believe the election is illegitimate would have believed that a Republican state official would ever compare an Ohio recount to “a parade that was already on the march”? Sounds like a campaign phrase - for Democrats.

Suddenly the recount itself seems like an old pal to Ohio’s top election official. Last week, the incoming president of the association of county election officials mused out loud about a suit to stop the Glibs, so I asked Blackwell if he was saying that his office would take no step to try to prevent the recount. “Once they ask for a recount, we will provide them with a recount… we will regard this as yet another audit of the voting process.”

As to the audit of the perception of conflict of interest in Blackwell’s other role as Honorary Co-Chair of the Bush-Cheney Ohio Campaign, he seemed less definitive. “We have a bi-partisan system in Ohio where the Hamilton County Chairman of the board of elections, Tim Burke, is also the Democrat chairman of the Democrat party in that county.” I’ll pause the quote here to note that said party does business as the Democratic Party and the Republicans’ obsession with that little ‘ic’ has always seemed peevish to me, even when it’s coming out of John McCain’s mouth. Blackwell continued: “The same for Dayton. The Democrat Chairman is the Chairman of the Board of Elections in Montgomery County.”

This is interesting, and this is troubling (why should you be able to be both Chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party and Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Elections?). But it also seemed to be self-evidently irrelevant - something akin to the political version of “They started it,” whether the ‘they’ are Republicans or Democrats.

The Democrats, of course, didn’t start the recount push in Ohio, the Glibs did, and the distinction seems vitally important to Blackwell. Messrs. Badnarik and Cobb “have a standing, not Jesse Jackson, and because Senator Kerry has conceded and has not asked for a recount he has no standing, and so I would anticipate that the Electoral College will be held on the 13th of December and 20 votes will go to the certified winner.”

We had already gone way past our scheduled length of the interview, and were throwing out other political stories, when I had to choose between two last questions to which I wanted Secretary Blackwell’s official answers. Judging by email response to the show, a lot of people would have asked the one I didn’t - about the still inexplicable “terrorist threat” lockdown of vote-counting in Warren County.

Not to get too Inside Baseball on you, but my thinking in the heat of the moment was that Mr. Blackwell would respond to questions about Warren County much in the way he veered off from my earlier question about what the Ohio GOP news release termed “a costly $1.5 million dollar recount…” He quickly agreed that the Recount Gap between actual costs and the $10 per precinct charge was the fault of nobody but Ohio’s legislature, which hasn’t updated the rate card since 1956. Then came what I expected we’d have heard again if I’d asked about Warren: “Ohio has a delicately balanced bi-partisan system that counts votes at the local level. I have nothing to do with counting the votes.”

For answers, we need the Warren County election authorities and - here’s a surprise - they haven’t commented since the FBI denied issuing them any kind of ‘terrorism warning.’

So, instead, I went for a straight yes-or-no on the latest ‘sources say’ story from the many and varied internets: did he, or did he not, meet with President Bush, in Ohio, on election day. “That’s just hogwash, absolutely zero, not true. And it’s the sort of mythology that grows out of, you know, a lot of people with a lot of time on their hands and the imaginations of Jonathan Swift.” While earning points for referencing the author of Gulliver’s Travels, Secretary Blackwell also threw a gauntlet down at the feet of the net’s Baker Streets Irregulars: there darn well better not be anybody willing to swear an oath they saw such a meeting take place.

We had no expectations that this interview was going to produce a “Eureka” moment and we were correct. But the salient point seems to be that -- as was meekly forecast here some time ago -- as the prospect of the actual recount loomed, the story would be driven into the mainstream media. Why, even CNN’s Inside Politics interviewed Jackson briefly Monday - and the Reverend’s use of the new F-word (fraud) seemingly motivated Blackwell to go on the record (and bring up Jackson’s presence in Ohio eight times after I stopped asking him about Jackson).

I did not see the CNN interview, but I am told Jackson did not repeat his strong weekend comments about Kerry supporting the Ohio investigations, which to me implies again that the only people more sensitive to the prospect of Kerry participation in the recount than the Republican Party, is the Democratic Party. This eludes my capability for analysis beyond what I have written here previously about the pulling back of last week’s news release by the Ohio Dems because it read the Kerry/Edwards campaign “joins” the recount, and its replacement a few hours later by an otherwise identical statement saying the Kerry/Edwards campaign “participates in” the process.

There is more parsing going on here - by both parties - than at a reunion of the Ken Starr fan club.

For the record, Jesse Jackson is scheduled to join us Tuesday night on Countdown, with the caveat that his day planner is notoriously fluid - so if he’s not there, don’t assume he’s been - I don’t know - fired.

Email at KOlbermann@msnbc.com