- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

Third-party candidate Kevin B. Zeese said yesterday his long-shot run for U.S. Senate in Maryland is gaining momentum because of gaffes by the Democratic nominee, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin.

Mr. Zeese, the nominee of the Green, Libertarian and Populist parties, said Mr. Cardin “committed political suicide” by skipping a debate Thursday in Charles County sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“He chose to offend a key voting block,” Mr. Zeese told The Washington Times.

Mr. Zeese, 51, said the pull-out will send ripples of disapproval through the statewide NAACP meeting today in Baltimore and compound resentment about the lack of black candidates at the top of the Democratic ticket.

“It shows a lack of confidence and a willingness to hide rather than confront issues,” he said.

Mr. Zeese also said he benefited when Mr. Cardin stumbled and stammered through a televised debate Wednesday when confronted by the Republican nominee, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

Mr. Cardin declined to respond.

Recent polls show Mr. Cardin and Mr. Steele in a dead heat, with Mr. Zeese garnering about 6 percent of the respondents.

Mr. Zeese bristled at the suggestion that he could cost Mr. Cardin the election by fracturing the congressman’s liberal voter base.

“I’m certainly not going to be a spoiler,” he said. “It is a question of people hearing me. If they hear me, I’ll win.”

Mr. Zeese and Mr. Cardin are scheduled to debate at the NAACP’s meeting today. Mr. Steele had not committed to attending.

Black voters could decide the election. They account for about 40 percent of Democratic voters in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1.

Mr. Cardin, 63, has struggled to woo black voters amid criticism that the state Democratic Party blocked the candidacy of former NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume, who narrowly lost the primary despite Mr. Cardin outspending him by about $3 million.

“The black community knows that if it had not been for the Democratic leadership selecting Cardin, then Mfume would be the candidate,” Mr. Zeese said.

Mr. Steele, 48, the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland, has the potential to break the Democratic lock on black voters and has helped make his party competitive in the state for the first time in a generation.

However, Mr. Zeese, who lives in Takoma Park and is the director of the District-based anti-war group DemocracyRising.US, said his anti-establishment message is more in tune with Maryland’s political aesthetic.

“Both of the other candidates are, in my view, exactly what is wrong with politics in America,” he said. “Both are special-interest funded and put corporate interests before the people’s interests. My views are more consistent with the views of Maryland voters, [and] African Americans will get more from my agenda than from Steele’s agenda.”

Mr. Zeese proposes a complete withdraw of U.S. troops from Iraq within six months, the elimination of income tax on the first $100,000 earned, universal health care and government-paid college tuition for all citizens.

Mr. Zeese, who concedes that his limited funding and inability to air TV ads has hampered his run, said he will spread his message with grass-roots campaigning at grocery stores, Metro stations and house parties until the Nov. 7 election.

He will participate in an anti-war rally today in Annapolis.

Mr. Zeese frequently criticizes Mr. Cardin’s record on the Iraq war, faulting the 10-term congressman for running as an anti-war candidate after repeatedly voting to fund the war and voting against a bill that would have required President Bush to offer an exit strategy.

Mr. Cardin has made his vote against the Iraq invasion the cornerstone of his campaign and cites it as the chief example of how he “stood up to President Bush.”

Mr. Cardin has declined to respond to Mr. Zeese and continues to focus on his run against Mr. Steele.

“Cardin is an insecure guy,” Mr. Zeese said. “He is running away from his record [and] the inconsistencies between his rhetoric and his record. … He is misleading the voters.”

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