- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Prince George’s County Democrats say they expect Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, to receive a surprising number of votes in the majority black, heavily Democratic county.

“A lot of people don’t want to disclose who they’re voting for,” said state Sen. Leo E. Green, who is retiring in January. “A lot of my African-American friends are voting for Steele. I know that, but quietly, not publicly.”

Mount Rainier Mayor Malinda Miles, a lifelong Democrat, said that many of her friends “are really supporting Steele, and it doesn’t matter that they’re Democrats.”

“I’m not talking about what’s in the newspapers. I’m talking about where people are at,” Miss Miles said. “I think Prince George’s is probably going to go Steele.”

Anngelique Carroll, 27, a legal secretary from Upper Marlboro, said she and many of her friends are voting for Mr. Steele.

“He’s for small business. He is for minorities,” said Ms. Carroll, a black Democrat. “Throughout his political career with Governor [Robert L.] Ehrlich, his progress has been good.”

Throughout the campaign season, most polls have shown Mr. Steele, the first black to win a statewide office in Maryland, trailing Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Democratic nominee. But SurveyUSA and other recent polls have pegged the Senate contest a dead heat.

Prince George’s County, which has the state’s largest concentration of Democratic voters, has become a battleground.

Race has become a key issue. Black Democrats, especially in Prince George’s, have complained that party leaders have been neglecting them for years.

On Monday, former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry, five fellow black Democrats on the County Council and several other black Democratic leaders endorsed Mr. Steele and criticized their party.

“I think it’s a close race,” said County Council member David Harrington, one of those who endorsed Mr. Steele. “Turnout is key. If it’s low turnout, then he’s not going to do well.”

The election outcome is uncertain, especially in Prince George’s, because of blacks’ longtime loyalty to the Democratic Party.

“It’s so close. So many people, among African-Americans, there’s things they like about Steele, but there’s some things where he agreed with President Bush,” said J. Aaron Warren, 38, a county police officer and co-founder of Minority Building Industry Association Inc. in Upper Marlboro.

“But with Ben Cardin, the only really negative thing I hear is that people didn’t really know him because he’s from Baltimore,” Officer Warren said.

Damiean Williams, 31, a technician, travel agent and real estate agent in Prince George’s, said he has heard too many negative things about Mr. Steele to vote for him.

“If I do vote, it would probably be for Cardin. … I’ve heard [Mr. Steele is] a ‘yes man,’ ” Mr. Williams said. “A lot of his ads look phony.”

Cherelle Gray, 38, of Fort Washington, who works as a manager at Linens-n-Things, is undecided.

“I’m not getting [Mr. Steele’s] explanations for anything. He hasn’t convinced me yet. But I’m open,” Mrs. Gray said.

Winning Prince George’s is essential for Mr. Cardin. He has scheduled a press conference for today with Rep. Albert R. Wynn and County Executive Jack B. Johnson, black Democrats who are supporting his campaign.

Maryland has about 900,000 registered Republicans and 1.7 million registered Democrats, of which an estimated 700,000 are black. Blacks represent more than 65 percent of the population in Prince George’s, which has more than 320,000 registered Democrats.

Although Mr. Cardin won the statewide primary, he was trounced in Prince George’s by Kweisi Mfume, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mr. Mfume received 74,637 votes to Mr. Cardin’s 19,824 in the county.

The tight Steele-Cardin contest is no surprise to Delegate Marvin E. Holmes Jr., Prince George’s Democrat.

On primary day in September, Mr. Holmes said that “if Ben Cardin wins [the primary], Steele wins [the general election].”

A black Democrat in the state Senate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said more recently: “It would have been probably better for the Democratic Party to come around Mfume. They would have had a better chance … if they were serious about the black vote.”

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