- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

Democratic plans to “discredit” Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s reputation among black voters in his run for the U.S. Senate are “destructive” and won’t work, a key Maryland Democrat said yesterday.

“[Democrats] ought to be promoting what they’re going to do that’s positive, instead of trying to knock Steele down,” said Wayne K. Curry, former Prince George’s County executive.

Mr. Curry said Mr. Steele’s candidacy presents an “enormously historic” opportunity for blacks that “may ultimately break this sort of vice grip by Democrats who feel entitled to black votes regardless of how they treat black voters.”

Mr. Steele, who is black, is a Republican.

“I’ve been a loyal and devoted Democratic supporter. … I’ve been at it for over 40 years waiting for that bus to arrive … under the virtual totalitarian leadership of the Democratic Party,” said Mr. Curry, who is rumored to be on the short list of potential running mates for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. “People would say, ‘You don’t have anywhere else to go.’ Now we do have somewhere else to go.”

Mr. Curry, who is black, was reacting to a poll conducted a month ago by the Maryland Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which was leaked to reporters and Mr. Steele’s campaign.

The survey of about 500 black voters who have voted in off-year elections found an “emerging black swing” voting bloc in Maryland.

Democratic pollster and consultant Cornell Belcher’s survey calls Mr. Steele a “unique threat,” and says he and Mr. Ehrlich “have a clear ability to break through the Democratic stronghold among African-American voters in Maryland.”

“There hasn’t been this kind of revelation of the diversity of thinking among African-Americans, and Steele’s campaign has brought that into focus,” said Mr. Curry, adding that his strong response was not politically motivated, but sprung from “a philosophical basis.”

The poll says Democrats cannot afford to wait until the fall “to knock Steele down” and their goal should be to link Mr. Steele to President Bush and national Republicans, turning Mr. Steele “into a typical Republican in the eyes of voters, as opposed to an African-American candidate.”

Mr. Curry said the Democratic Party has not supported the only black Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate — Kweisi Mfume, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“When they get a chance to raise up, instead of doing that, they tear down,” Mr. Curry said.

Mr. Steele called the poll an example of “partisan politics at its worst.” He said it is “ironic” that Democratic leaders have supported Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore in his Senate campaign, while he himself and Mr. Mfume have been “under attack” by the Democratic machinery.

Two DSCC staffers resigned last fall after they illegally obtained Mr. Steele’s credit report, and one of the staffers last month pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for her role in the theft.

“They probably have a similar plan for [Mr. Mfume],” Mr. Steele said.

But Mr. Mfume’s spokesman, Walter Ludwig, said the Democratic poll outlines “an appropriate strategy.”

“Michael Steele is a typical Republican,” Mr. Ludwig said. “The only thing most voters know about Michael Steele right now is that he’s African-American and he’s a Republican. He hasn’t made it clear what he stands for.”

Mr. Curry said Mr. Steele’s campaign is “not just about personality. It’s about who’s going to help you obtain the tools to make your life better.”

Cardin spokesman Oren Shur said the poll shows “that [Mr. Cardin] needs to work hard to earn every vote.”

Mr. Shur said Mr. Cardin is “campaigning tirelessly in every community in order to become Maryland’s choice for U.S. Senate,” while “Vice President [Dick] Cheney is hosting a high-dollar fundraiser for Steele tonight.”

“Michael Steele is George W. Bush’s choice for Senate,” Mr. Shur said. “This poll shows that African-Americans, like the vast majority of Marylanders, know the Bush-Steele agenda is wrong for our state and nation.”

Black Democratic leaders in the state legislature were reluctant to talk about the poll.

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