- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

The battle for Prince George’s County voters is intensifying in the final days of Maryland’s U.S. Senate race.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Democratic nominee, will team up a second time with Sen. Barack Obama, the Senate’s only black member, to woo voters in the mostly black and heavily Democratic county.

Mr. Cardin, 63, also is lining up last-minute endorsements in the county, including from Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a black Democrat who could announce his support for Mr. Cardin as early as today, county officials said.

Prominent black Democrats in the county broke party ranks this week to support Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the Republican nominee and the first black elected statewide in Maryland. The Democratic crossovers have accused party officials of repeatedly snubbing the black community and their county.

Mr. Steele, who lives in Prince George’s, will be campaigning alongside his crossover supporters, which include all five black members of the County Council and former county Executive Wayne K. Curry.

The election could hinge on how Prince George’s 320,000 registered Democrats vote Tuesday.

The county, which is more than 65 percent black, accounts for a large part the Democratic Party’s overwhelming advantage in voter registration.

Maryland has about 900,000 registered Republicans and 1.7 million registered Democrats, of which an estimated 700,000 are black.

Polls show the race in a dead heat.

“Cardin’s office called yesterday, and they’re having Obama, and I’d like to go,” said Mount Rainier Mayor Malinda Miles, whose endorsement could sway some of her 600 constituents. “And Steele also is calling and saying, ‘I need you.’ I’m torn in between.

“If Wayne Curry and the majority of the council endorsed him … I think it’s going to be a major impact,” she said.

Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, refrained from criticizing Mr. Steele when campaigning for Mr. Cardin after his narrow primary victory over Kweisi Mfume, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland have said they will not attack Mr. Steele, even as they campaign for his Democratic rival.

“I think that is a tactical decision,” Mrs. Norton said last week.

Though Mr. Cardin won the statewide primary, Mr. Mfume trounced him in Prince George’s, winning 74,637 votes to Mr. Cardin’s 19,824.

Mr. Cardin, a white 10-term congressman from Baltimore, has struggled to shore up black support.

Mr. Curry and other black Democrats throwing their support to Mr. Steele this week reiterated accusations that party leaders blocked Mr. Mfume’s run and criticism that the ticket lacks black candidates.

Both senatorial campaigns made stops yesterday in Prince George’s.

Mr. Steele, 48, greeted residents at a senior-citizen center in Brentwood. Mr. Cardin stumped for universal health care outside the Prince George’s County Health Department in Cheverly.

“I’ve been in this county campaigning more than any other county in the state,” Mr. Cardin told reporters. “We’ll be here the rest of this week, every day, because of the importance of Prince George’s County to our campaign.”

A Steele campaign spokesman described the push in the county as “aggressive.”

About 400 Steele campaign volunteers have been canvassing in the county for the past several weeks. Joe Gaskins, chairman of the Steele campaign in Prince George’s, said he hopes to have between 3,000 and 5,000 canvassers in the county on Election Day.

The candidates are engaged in a fierce tug of war for the county’s voters, said the Rev. C. Anthony Muse, a Democrat running unopposed for a Prince George’s state Senate seat.

“I’ve seen them both working extremely hard,” he said. “Their presence is felt here in Prince George’s County. … Workers are on the ground. People are enthused about this race.”

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