- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

Black Maryland Democratic leaders say Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s run for the U.S. Senate could put them at odds with black voters who would question their endorsing a white candidate, such as U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, over the black Republican.

“I think at that point I’d be saying that I am endorsing the Democratic ticket,” said Delegate Obie Patterson, Prince George’s County Democrat and former chairman of the General Assembly’s black caucus.

“It would be a much more difficult task to rally the troops to get out and vote for a single person such as Ben Cardin,” he said. “It would be easy for me to sell it as a Democrat supporting Democrats. … Whether I can do that actively enough to bring over all my friends, I’m not sure.”

Former state Democratic Party chairman Isiah “Ike” Leggett predicted almost every black Democratic official would remain loyal and endorse whoever gets the party nomination.

But “among rank-and-file African-American Democrats, some may be torn, especially if there are no blacks [on the Democratic ticket] in other significant elected positions,” said Mr. Leggett, a black Democratic candidate for Montgomery County executive.

Mr. Steele, who is seeking to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, is the first black man to win a statewide election in Maryland.

Mr. Cardin, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, said race would not be a factor in a contest with Mr. Steele.

“I think it is somewhat demeaning to say that someone is going to vote for someone because of race,” he said. “People don’t want to vote for a candidate because of the color of their skin but because of the values the candidate stands for.”

Nonetheless, black elected officials said race could become a factor.

“It is going to be a challenge,” said Delegate Darryl A. Kelley, a black Prince George’s Democrat, who added that he would support a white Senate nominee despite the difficulties. “[Mr. Steele] is making inroads into the Democratic African-American base where other Republicans have not been able to do so.”

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a black Baltimore Democrat, said racial considerations could cut both ways. “I’m betting that in certain parts of the state there are folks that will not vote for a candidate because he is black.”

Steele campaign spokesman Leonardo Alcivar said the lieutenant governor is offering black voters a “true choice.”

“No group of voters should be locked into one party or another,” Mr. Alcivar said.

Several black Democrats said they were pinning their hopes on Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Black officials in Prince George’s County this week endorsed Mr. Mfume over Mr. Cardin.

Yet Mr. Mfume’s campaign is lagging in fundraising and is widely viewed as lacking momentum, even though the Democratic primary is several months away.

In July, Mr. Mfume noted how Republicans were rallying for Mr. Steele but his party had ignored his candidacy. “More voters in Maryland are carrying the impression that the Democratic Party talks the talk, but doesn’t always walk the walk. People may find a way to cross over in the fall,” he said.

According to the 2000 census, there are nearly 1.5 million blacks in Maryland, accounting for 27.9 percent of the state’s population. The Associated Press reports that blacks make up about 50 percent of the 1.6 million registered Democrats in Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.

A Rasmussen Reports poll in July found that Mr. Cardin would receive 45 percent of the overall vote and 51 percent of the black vote. Mr. Steele would get 40 percent of the overall vote and 30 percent of the black vote.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Mr. Steele won the 2002 election with 51.5 percent of the vote, including about 11 percent of the black vote.

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