- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — Two of Maryland’s most prominent black elected Democrats have yet to endorse a candidate in the primary for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat.

U.S. Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and Albert R. Wynn likely will choose between U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Race complicates the decision because Mr. Mfume is black and Mr. Cardin is white.

The Republican front-runner is Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who in 2002 became the first black official in Maryland to be elected statewide.

The state Democratic Party, working with the federal Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has conducted polling that indicates Mr. Steele’s message of economic empowerment resonates with black Democratic voters.

Mr. Cummings and Mr. Wynn say they want to wait until the Sept. 12 primary approaches before making a decision.

“It’s too early to endorse anybody,” said Mr. Cummings, who was elected to Mr. Mfume’s seat in the Baltimore-area 7th Congressional District after Mr. Mfume left Congress in 1996 to lead the NAACP.

Mr. Wynn, who represents Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, said he needs time to get a better sense of what each candidate could do for the state and their constituents.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to evaluate the candidates, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” he said.

The congressmen also said they wanted to weigh in when voters are paying closer attention to the race, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“I don’t see endorsing someone almost five months before an election as the most effective way to do it,” Mr. Cummings said. “If I’m going to do an endorsement, which I do plan to, I want it to have the maximum meaning.”

Mr. Wynn said race would be a factor in his decision, but not the only one.

Maryland has six Democrats in the House, including Mr. Cardin, whose 3rd Congressional District also includes Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties.

Mr. Cardin has been endorsed by U.S. Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, whose 5th Congressional District includes sections of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties and Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, whose 2nd Congressional District includes sections of Baltimore as well as Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties.

U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, 8th District, said he would not make an endorsement before the primary and that Democrats should focus on the ultimate goal of retaining the seat occupied by retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

“I think we have a number of strong candidates,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “This is a healthy process. We should let them compete for votes, and I think a strong candidate will emerge.”

Other Democratic candidates for the seat include activist A. Robert Kaufman, American University professor Allan J. Lichtman, Montgomery County businessman Joshua B. Rales and former Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen.

Both Mr. Cardin and Mr. Mfume have attracted support from black leaders.

Mr. Mfume’s backers include state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, Baltimore Democrat, Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon.

City Council member Kenneth N. Harris Sr. and several black pastors have endorsed Mr. Cardin.

The Congressional Black Caucus, which Mr. Mfume led for two years while in Congress, has remained quiet in the race. The caucus’ political action committee gave $5,000 to Mr. Mfume’s campaign in November, but the organization doesn’t make endorsements, said Rep. Melvin Watt, caucus chairman and North Carolina Democrat.

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