- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Have Rep. Ben Cardin and other Maryland Democrats got the message that not everything is about President Bush? If the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Michael Steele by prominent black Democrats Monday doesn’t sober them, nothing will. Defeat would do it, of course.

Mr. Cardin has based his entire Senate campaign on the claim that his opponent is Mr. Bush’s “hand-picked” man. It has worked in other parts of the country, so why not in Maryland? More savvy election watchers have noticed something else. The Maryland race to replace the retiring Paul Sarbanes is not like the rest of the country. Should Mr. Steele win, he’ll be only the second black senator after Barack Obama, the Democrat from Illinois.

In their primary, Maryland Democrats could choose between Mr. Cardin and Kweisi Mfume, the former chairman of the NAACP. But the Democratic leadership wanted another Paul Sarbanes, and Mr. Mfume was perceived as too much a maverick. So the Democratic big-wigs threw their support behind (“hand-picked”?) Mr. Cardin, despite warnings from Maryland’s blacks not to take them for granted.

This just backfired, big time. “The [Democratic] Party acts as though when they want our opinion, they’ll give it to us,” said former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry, standing alongside five fellow black Democrats on the county council. “It’s not going to be like that any more.”

Council member Samuel Dean’s comments are to the point as well. “We have been Democrats, [but] when the party has an opportunity to do something to show that their base is recognized, appreciated and acknowledged, they don’t.”

A new poll suggests that maybe just enough Maryland black voters are thinking this, too. About 25 percent of black voters registered as Democrats are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the Maryland Democratic Party’s inclusion, or lack thereof, of black candidates. This is significant because Mr. Steele needs about 25 percent to 30 percent of the black vote to win.

If we take Mr. Curry and his fellow Democrats at their word that their endorsement of Mr. Steele marks the end of unquestioning allegiance to a single party, the dynamics of Maryland politics has changed remarkably — and for the better.

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