- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2006

Maryland’s U.S. Senate candidates went to church in Prince George’s County this morning, greeting as many worshippers as possible before Tuesday’s election, which is expected to hinge on the county’s black Democratic electorate.

“In churches you haven’t been to before, it gives folks a chance to see you,” said Senate candidate Michael S. Steele, the first black person elected to statewide office in Maryland, who some think could gain a large percentage of the decisive black vote.

Lt. Gov. Steele stepped from the cold morning air into First Baptist Church of Highland Park, in Landover, just after 7:30 a.m.

Mr. Steele shook hands with congregation members during a brief greeting period, while the choir swayed and sang a gospel song. Mr. Steele also read a proclamation for the church’s 85th anniversary, from himself and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

But there were no political statements to the congregation of about 1,500.

“No matter who we pick, if [God] is not in it, then it’s going to fall,” prayed Joyce Powell, a deaconess at the church. “[Politicians] might come into church, but they must have Christ in their hearts.”

“We don’t have political speeches at our church,” said the Rev. Henry P. Davis III.

Mr. Steele, a Catholic, later visited two other Prince George’s churches and one Montgomery County church. He said he agreed with Rev. Davis.

“I’ve never spoken a political word in a church at all, because it’s not appropriate,” he said.

Democrat Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 10-term congressman from Baltimore, visited three churches himself in Prince George’s this morning.

At 9:30, Mr. Cardin, who is Jewish, sat in the front pew and listened to the Rev. Delman L. Coates preach an openly partisan speech to his congregation of about 1,500 at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, in Clinton.

Mr. Coates preached that voting for Mr. Steele would be like voting to free the thief Barabbas instead of Jesus.

In the gospels, Pontius Pilate asks a Jewish crowd whether he should free Jesus Christ or Barabbas, and the crowd shouts for Barabbas to be freed, and for Jesus to be crucified.

Mr. Coates implied that black people who vote for Mr. Steele would be deceived just like the crowd that shouted to crucify Jesus. He said people who supported Barabbas could be called “Barablicans,” and people who were for Jesus could be called “Jesuscrats.”

“Can’t you just see the commercials that were designed to endear Barabbas to the crowd?” he said. “I can just see [Barablicans] well dressed, well groomed [and] holding a puppy.”

The reference to one of Mr. Steele’s TV ads, which have featured Mr. Steele holding a puppy, drew laughter from the congregation and prompted several worshipers to stand and applaud.

Black Democratic voters in Prince George’s and Baltimore will likely decide Tuesday’s election. The black voting block will also play a large role in the governor’s race, where Mr. Ehrlich, Republican, faces a tough challenge from Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, Democrat.

The county, with more than 320,000 registered Democrats and more than 65 percent black, accounts for a large part of the Democratic Party’s overwhelming advantage in voter registration.

But the black establishment been angered over the last four years by the Democratic party’s failure to promote black leaders, first in the 2002 governor’s race, and then this year in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Churchgoers appeared swayed by the candidates appearances.

“I’m crossing party lines to vote for [Steele]. I’m a Democrat,” said Josephine Mourning, 51, a real estate agent who attends Highland Park, where Mr. Steele made his first stop of the day.

“I want someone who is for the people,” Ms. Mourning said. “We’ve had [Mr. Cardin] for 20 years and what has happened? … We don’t need another body. We need somebody who is going to work.”

At Mt. Ennon, William W. Reese, 56, a federal worker from Ft. Washington, said Mr. Coates’ “powerful” sermon dissuaded him from voting for Mr. Steele.

“The pastor brought the point home for those of us who are on the fence,” Mr. Reese said.


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