- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

Supporters of Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin’s run for U.S. Senate say they are concerned about how he is faring with tough competition for black voters in the Democratic primary and with a wealthy upstart bleeding him of support among whites.

“By no means is it a foregone conclusion,” said Delegate Theodore Sophocleus, an Anne Arundel Democrat who is backing Mr. Cardin. “We are doing everything we can for him.”

A Cardin campaign official said that after more than a year on the campaign trail, the man who has been considered the front-runner in the primary contest is still almost a stranger in Prince George’s County. The Maryland State Board of Elections reports that the county, the state’s second most populous jurisdiction, has more than 319,000 registered Democrats, the highest concentration in the state.

“Clearly Ben’s name recognition in Prince George’s County needs to be increased. … The more people he can touch, the better it is going to be,” said Jim Estepp, a former Prince George’s County Council member who is serving on the Cardin campaign steering committee. “If you support someone, you always have concerns.”

Mr. Cardin’s strongest rival in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary is Kweisi Mfume. The former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is expected to win most of Maryland’s black vote.

Blacks account for about 28 percent of Maryland’s 5.3 million residents and are thought to make up an even larger percentage of the state’s 1.7 million registered Democrats. The Prince George’s County population is 63 percent black.

An emerging factor in the Democratic primary race is Bethesda businessman Josh Rales, who is spending millions of dollars on TV ads to boost his Senate bid. Political observers say the millionaire, who is white, will take away support from Mr. Cardin, who also is white.

Mr. Rales has pledged to spend as much as $5 million of his own money on the race.

The Democratic nominee likely will face Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a black Republican who has attracted national attention to the contest for the open seat of retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat.

“We’ve always considered this to be a competitive primary,” said Cardin spokesman Oren Shur. “We will continue to campaign aggressively in all parts of the state, focusing on Ben’s strong record of getting things done for regular Marylanders.”

He said Mr. Cardin, a 10-term congressman from Baltimore County, will not resort to attacks on his primary opponents regardless of how tight the race becomes.

Still, some supporters say Mr. Cardin is not campaigning strongly enough.

“It doesn’t seem like he is out there [campaigning] as much as he was,” said Cecil County Commission member Nelson K. Bolender, a Democrat who endorsed Mr. Cardin in January. “Right after he announced, he was out here quite a bit. Recently, we haven’t seen or heard much. … The primary is not that far away.”

Mr. Rales has spent $2 million — most of it out of his own pocket — to put his name and face on television in the Baltimore and suburban D.C. markets since July 5. The media blitz will expand today to the Eastern Shore.

“By September 12, I will not have any recognition problem in Maryland,” said Mr. Rales, who made a fortune from real estate investments but has no political experience.

Mr. Cardin has made a $680,000 down payment for TV ad time in the last two weeks of August.

Mr. Mfume’s campaign has begun to rally. A Washington Post poll shows him leading Mr. Cardin by six percentage points: 31 percent to 25 percent with 32 percent undecided.

Mr. Mfume has started using his NAACP connections to tap donors across the country. He held two fundraisers last week: in Chicago with Linda Johnson Rice, president and chief executive officer of Johnson Publishing Co., and in the District with Vernon Jordan, who was an adviser to President Clinton. Campaign sources said the events raised about $100,000.

The fundraisers were “precursors of things to come,” Mfume campaign spokesman Mark Clark said.

Mr. Cardin remains the top fundraiser among the Democratic candidates.

Last week, his campaign reported raising more than $925,000 in the second quarter of the year. That gives him about $2.3 million of cash on hand and brings his fundraising total to more than $4.5 million.

Mr. Mfume raised $135,000, and Mr. Steele raised about $1.8 million in the April-to-June quarter.

Mr. Mfume said Democratic Party leaders wanted to force him out of the race early so Mr. Cardin could focus on defeating Mr. Steele in November.

James Gimpel, a University of Maryland political science professor, said Mr. Rales’ TV campaign could sap votes from Mr. Cardin, “particularly if Mfume gets a vast majority of the black vote, which it sounds like he will.”

“It may well be that there’s a racial division in the vote,” he said. “The other thing is that Rales … could take valuable support for Cardin out of Montgomery County, and that could definitely hurt. [Mr. Cardin] needs those Montgomery voters who might well go to Rales.”

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