- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

Sen. Barack Obama yesterday commended Republicans for fielding a black candidate in Maryland’s U.S. Senate race, but told a crowd of thousands that they should vote for a Democrat who will oppose President Bush.

“I think it’s great that the Republican Party has discovered black people,” the Illinois Democrat said with a touch of sarcasm during a rally for Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin at Bowie State University.

Then more seriously, Mr. Obama added: “I am sincere. I want them to compete for the African-American vote.”

Mr. Obama, the fifth black U.S. senator in history, and a possible 2008 presidential candidate, was making his second appearance for Mr. Cardin in the past six weeks.

Democrats are trying to prevent black Democrats from crossing party lines to vote for Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the black Republican candidate.

The rally capped a week in which Prince George’s, and its 320,000 Democratic voters, most of them black, have been the center of attention in a race that most polls and observers say is coming down to the wire.

Mr. Obama said Republican efforts to attract black voters should be taken seriously, but told Prince George’s voters to support Mr. Cardin.

“You don’t vote for somebody because of what they look like,” he said. “You vote for what they stand for.”

Mr. Obama — who when here in September did not mention Mr. Steele by name and avoided criticizing him — took a few shots yesterday at the lieutenant governor, who has lived in Prince George’s for 20 years.

“We want to take a look at who has a track record, [someone who] doesn’t just talk the talk, doesn’t just look good on TV, doesn’t just have a pretty smile, but somebody who has actually done the work and showed backbone,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Cardin, a 10-term congressman from Baltimore, has struggled to connect with black voters, though he has campaigned vigorously in Prince George’s.

Mr. Steele, who in 2002 became the first black person elected to statewide office in Maryland, was endorsed this week by prominent Prince George’s Democrats.

Former County Executive Wayne K. Curry and all five black Democrats on the county council Monday endorsed Mr. Steele, saying their party has taken black voters for granted.

Mr. Cardin countered Thursday by appearing with County Executive Jack B. Johnson, Democrat, and about 30 other Prince George’s lawmakers.

“On Tuesday, so goes Prince George’s County, so goes the state of Maryland.” Mr. Johnson said at the rally.

Mr. Steele said the rally featuring Mr. Obama was a transparent attempt to make a last-minute connection with black voters.

“Ben Cardin represents an old-style politics, an old way that would rather sit in a room and debate rather than get on the street where people are and look them in the eye,” he said.

Mr. Curry said Prince George’s voters would not be won over by Mr. Obama’s appearance.

“I don’t know if it speaks of desperation but it doesn’t show sophistication in [Mr. Cardin’s] view of Prince George’s County,” he said.

Mr. Curry called the rally with Mr. Obama “a show” and said it was “not the same as addressing the issues we know are crucial to our community.”

He also said Mr. Cardin did not talked often about Prince George’s County issues until Mr. Curry and the other lawmakers endorsed Mr. Steele.

“That’s not true,” Mr. Cardin said. “I’ve been talking issues of Prince George’s County for the last year and a half.”

Mr. Steele and Mr. Cardin, along with Green Party candidate Kevin Zeese, squared off in their final debate yesterday morning at First Baptist Church in Glenarden.

The debate, hosted by the Collective Banking Group, a group of about 100 black pastors, was tamer than last week’s three-way free-for-all on NewsChannel 8.

Mr. Steele yesterday said he opposes the death penalty in all cases, while Mr. Cardin said he supports it, but only “for the worst of the worst.” They also discussed Supreme Court nominees, the genocide in Darfur, voting rights for felons and increasing the minimum wage.

Several times during the debate, Mr. Cardin charged that the state Republican Party plans to suppress voter turnout by “aggressively challenging” voters and election judges at the polls.

Mr. Cardin left the debate without answering reporters’ questions, but Mr. Steele responded to the congressman’s claim.

“This is not a voter-suppression effort,” he said. “However, to the extent voters feels intimidated by it, [or] voters feel some concern about it, the state party needs to address it.”

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