- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

There are mounting signs that Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who began the gubernatorial race a few months ago as a prohibitive favorite, may be in a tough political fight against Republican Rep. Robert Ehrlich. According to a new Gonzales/Arnscott poll, Mr. Ehrlich, who trailed Mrs. Townsend by 13-15 points in public opinion polls taken in January and March, has closed to within 7 points of the Democratic frontrunner.
Perhaps the most ominous development for Mrs. Townsend, however, is the mounting evidence that blacks, whose down-the-line support was essential to Gov. Parris Glendening's 1994 and 1998 victories, are disaffected with their treatment at the hands of the Democratic Party. Mrs. Townsend's selection of retired Adm. Charles Larson, who until early last month was a Republican, was widely praised by many Democratic Party leaders, who believe it will help them woo moderate independent voters. But it has infuriated liberal black politicians, who say, in effect, that they were not given the opportunity to torpedo the Larson selection. Adding to their anger is the fact that Mr. Ehrlich has chosen a black Republican, state party chairman Michael Steele, as his running mate.
The complaints exploded into the open last week, when Rep. Albert Wynn and three black, Democratic state senators from Prince George's County cancelled a photo session scheduled with Mrs. Townsend and Adm. Larson.
It is no small irony that Mrs. Townsend is having problems with the black community. For the past eight years, she and Mr. Glendening have courted this constituency by boasting about their commitment to more spending on social programs and racial preferences in the awarding of state contracts at every opportunity. Mr. Glendening's recent decision to call a moratorium on executions in the state (despite the fact that there is no serious doubt as to the guilt of anyone on death row in Maryland) was a crude, cynical political gesture aimed largely at ensuring a high turnout from black voters who are strongly opposed to capital punishment.
Since courting blacks with a "positive" liberal message isn't working real well these days, the Democratic establishment and its pet pundits seem intent on cutting the Republicans down to size. Last Thursday, for example, prominent Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker demanded that Mr. Steele "explain" how he as a black man could find comfort in a Republican Party in which malefactors like Ronald Reagan criticized welfare fraud, and one in which George Bush ran campaign adds criticizing Michael Dukakis for letting Willie Horton, a convicted murderer, out of prison, enabling him to travel to Maryland, break into a house, and rape a woman there. This is reminiscent of the way the Democratic Party machine went all-out to trash Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey four years ago during the final weeks of the campaign by demonizing her as an opponent of civil rights. The fact that the ugliness seems to have begun early this year suggests that the Democratic establishment is badly worried.


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