- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Maryland U.S. Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume said yesterday that Democrats risk losing the senatorial election because “old-line party bosses” are undermining his campaign and alienating black voters.

Mr. Mfume also would not say whether he would endorse Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the front-runner for the Democratic Senate nomination, if he should lose to the lawmaker in the September primary.

“I can say that there will be people who will feel disaffected [if I am not the nominee],” Mr. Mfume told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

“I’ve tried to resist the hypothetical question [about endorsing Mr. Cardin],” he said. “I have to stay in this mode that I’m going to win, but the day after the election, I’m sure I’ll have an answer.”

Mr. Mfume is vying for the nomination to replace Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat who is retiring. Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the first black to win statewide office in Maryland, is running for the seat as a Republican.

Calling Mr. Steele a “friend,” Mr. Mfume said he shares similar goals and ideas with the Republican official as well as Mr. Cardin.

“I agree with both of them, maybe equally but on different things,” said Mr. Mfume, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Mfume called for “meaningful and fair” immigration reform that does not resort to amnesty for illegal aliens or building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

He also noted a “direct correlation” between poor education and high crime rates, endorsing teacher-retention efforts and emphasizing the role of values in education.

What’s more, Mr. Mfume, 57, said his generation — the baby boomers — deserves much of the blame for what he called the deterioration of family values and the rise of a pop culture that promotes destructive behavior.

“I believe that the ideal situation is the nuclear family, a mother and a father,” said Mr. Mfume, who was a teenage father and high school dropout. “There are a lot of things working against the nuclear family.”

However, he opposes a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex “marriage.”

Mr. Mfume said he disagreed with Mr. Cardin’s support for the initial version of the USA Patriot Act, which increased the government’s surveillance and investigative powers to combat terrorists, and for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Mr. Mfume blamed for exporting U.S. jobs.

He also was critical of Mr. Cardin for accepting nearly $700,000 in campaign donations by special-interest groups. “I’m not taking a great deal of special-interest money,” he said.

Yet, Mr. Mfume lamented lack of party support and his struggle to raise funds, saying his chief concern is raising enough money for TV advertisements for the final push before the primary.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports, Mr. Mfume has raised $623,000 to Mr. Cardin’s $3.9 million and Mr. Steele’s $2.7 million.

Mr. Cardin, who leads Mr. Mfume by as many as 10 percentage points in some polls, has said he will not criticize Mr. Mfume. He also has said he will not court the black vote or craft a message to appeal to them specifically.

“There are a lot of different ethnic communities in Maryland,” Mr. Cardin told The Times recently. “We’ve found the same message is effective with all of them.”

Still, Mr. Mfume said that by pushing the candidacy of Mr. Cardin, who is white, the state Democratic Party risks a repeat of the 2002 gubernatorial race. The party lost the state’s governorship for the first time in more than 30 years, in part because many black voters didn’t vote and others supported the Republican team of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Mr. Steele.

“The smart thing would have been — in my humble opinion — the day after the [2002] election to sit down and say, ‘We have a problem. How do we fix it?’ I don’t think that conversation occurred,” Mr. Mfume said.

“I honestly believe that there is a core group in the leadership of the Democratic Party that understands [the importance of promoting black candidates], but I think there is an older group of political bosses who sort of control the [party’s] direction.”

Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman says the party hasn’t played favorites in the primary contest.

“The party has been and will continue to be scrupulously fair and objective to all candidates in all primaries,” he said. “I think the voters of Maryland are going to recognize and have recognized very quickly the downside of electing Michael Steele, regardless of who our nominee is.”

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