- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

Black voters’ dislike for President Bush and distrust of Republicans sank Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s bid for Maryland’s U.S. Senate seat, especially in the majority-black, heavily Democratic battleground of Prince George’s County, local black leaders said yesterday.

“In another year, another era, another climate, he may have been able to gain more traction,” said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George’s Democrat who supported Mr. Steele’s opponent, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin. “But it was just not a time that any Republican could be successful.”

Many black Democrats had complained that their party had neglected their concerns and candidates. In addition, many black religious, business and political leaders — including former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry and all five black members of the county council — endorsed Mr. Steele, a Republican.

Nonetheless, Mr. Steele, the first black person elected to statewide office in Maryland, gained 23 percent of the vote in Prince George’s, where he has lived for 20 years.

Mr. Cardin, a white 10-term congressman from Baltimore, won 76 percent of the county’s vote. In September’s Democratic primary, he won 19 percent of the county’s vote and Kweisi Mfume, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, won 71 percent.

“There was a resounding wave of resentment,” Mr. Curry said of Tuesday’s election results. “This wasn’t an endorsement of the [Democratic] party’s leadership. This was a rejection of the mess that President Bush has created.”

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Mr. Steele had made inroads into the black community in the past four years, and Mr. Steele aimed his campaign at expanding Prince George’s County’s middle and upper classes.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, lost his re-election bid to Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who enlisted as his running mate a black Prince George’s County delegate — Anthony G. Brown.

Mr. Steele had “an image thing he had to overcome,” said Bishop Harry Jackson, a Lanham pastor who was one of the candidate’s biggest supporters among clergy.

“Some people just don’t trust Republicans,” Mr. Jackson said. “In the post-civil rights era, there has been a feeling by blacks that the Republican Party was anti-the little guy and pro-state’s rights.”

State’s rights, he added, “is for many blacks still a code word for segregation.”

In Prince George’s County, about 187,905 voters turned out Tuesday, compared with 115,000 in the 2002 midterm elections.

“We have political power. We showed it,” said Derrick Green, deputy chief of staff to Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democrat. “We showed up in big numbers.”

Mr. Wynn agreed, rejecting the argument that black voters would have more leverage if they were not guaranteed to vote a straight Democratic ticket.

“What gives the African-American community the most political leverage is flexing its political muscle,” he said. “What we need to do is look at the results we get in return for this effort.”

Mr. Wynn mentioned Cabinet appointments, improvements at Bowie State University and the county’s community college, and financial support for Prince George’s Hospital Center as prizes he would like Mr. O’Malley to bestow.

Mr. Curry said he also expects Mr. O’Malley to “work very hard” to appease black Democrats’ anger, which began to boil over in 2002.

“It’s my expectation that Martin will reach out to try and heal those divisions,” he said.

During a press conference yesterday at City Hall in Baltimore, Mr. O’Malley was noncommittal about specific steps he would take to reward black leaders for their support.

He sidestepped a question on whether he would duplicate Mr. Ehrlich’s commitment to position his lieutenant governor, Mr. Brown, to become Maryland’s first black governor.

“The only positioning we are getting ready to do is we are becoming well positioned to serve the people of Maryland well,” Mr. O’Malley said.

• S.A. Miller in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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