Sunday, October 15, 2006

A coalition of Maryland pastors and religious groups will start airing radio and TV ads this week to galvanize support among black religious voters for Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s U.S. Senate campaign.

“We see the African-American values vote as the key demographic to any winning campaign,” said Bishop Harry Jackson, a Democrat and pastor of Hope Christian Church in Lanham.

Bishop Jackson said he organized a meeting in Baltimore last week between Mr. Steele, a black Republican, and about 30 black pastors, including some from large churches.

Mr. Steele, a devout Catholic who studied to become a priest in his early 20s, is running against Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 10-term congressman from Baltimore.

Mr. Cardin, a Democrat, is one of four white men at the top of the Democratic ticket in Maryland.

Black political, religious and business leaders have said that lack of diversity in the party — despite blacks making up about 40 percent of Democratic primary voters — has led to resentment. There also is lingering resentment that party leaders did not pick a black person to be lieutenant governor in the 2002 elections, as the Republicans did in selecting Mr. Steele.

As a result, Mr. Jackson’s advocacy group, the High Impact Leadership Coalition, had joined with the Maryland Catholic Conference, Maryland Right to Life and the Association of Maryland Families to spend about $70,000 for the ads — mostly on the radio in Baltimore and Prince George’s County until the Nov. 7 general election.

Bishop Jackson said black religious voters are interested in issues beyond abortion and same-sex “marriage,” including immigration and national security.

“Abortion and protection of marriage cannot be seen as the only issues that voters care about,” he said. “We are working to educate individuals on the different candidates’ stances on other key issues, like a strong immigration policy and winning the war on terror.”

Steele spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said Mr. Steele, 47, is “proud to have the support of many in the faith community.”

Mr. Steele has not campaigned on his conservative credentials, choosing instead to portray himself as a voice of change who will bring an outsider’s perspective to Capitol Hill.

One of his favorite lines, whether talking to rural voters in Hagerstown or inner-city voters in Baltimore, is: “When I go to Capitol Hill, I’m bringing ya’ll with me.”

Mr. Steele opposes abortion, same-sex “marriage” and embryonic stem-cell research.

Mr. Cardin, 63, supports abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. He has been less clear about his views on same-sex “marriage” but has said he favors traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

In 2004, however, Mr. Cardin voted against a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex “marriage.”

“Anyone who knows Ben Cardin knows that he’s a man of family and faith,” said Cardin spokesman Oren Shur.

“There will be a lot of ads on the airwaves this year, but at the end of the day, Marylanders in all communities are looking for a change from President Bush’s failed policies,” Mr. Shur added.

Mr. Cardin has led Mr. Steele in polls by an average of 10 points.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, campaigned with Mr. Cardin yesterday.

Mr. Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, joined Mr. Cardin at a discussion with minority business owners in Prince George’s County. He also attended a rally at the party’s Montgomery County headquarters in Bethesda.

Former President Bill Clinton will campaign Thursday for Mr. Cardin.

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