- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and other black Democratic leaders yesterday endorsed Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin for the U.S. Senate, as the Cardin campaign and that of his Republican rival — Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele — sought approval from supporters of Kweisi Mfume.

“We know where Ben Cardin stands on all the issues,” said Mr. Cummings, who had backed the primary campaign of Mr. Mfume, the former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “We do not know who Michael Steele is, and we do not know what he stands for.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Steele has aired a new TV ad that mocks negative campaigning and features him professing to “love puppies.”

He congratulated Mr. Cardin on his endorsements yesterday, saying, “It just tells me I’ve got to work harder,” and brushed aside Mr. Cummings’ criticisms.

“They want to sound bite people’s experiences and sound bite people’s lives into 30 seconds, and people don’t live that way,” Mr. Steele said during a tour of Ellicott City.

“I’m not engaged in a conversation with Ben Cardin or Elijah Cummings,” he said. “I’m talking to real Marylanders whose problems aren’t red or blue, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. They’re real.”

Race has played a key role in the U.S. Senate contest, which pits Mr. Cardin, a white 10-term congressman from Baltimore, against Mr. Steele, the first black to win statewide office in Maryland.

Mr. Steele’s potential to break the Democratic lock on black votes has made Maryland’s Senate race one of the most closely watched campaigns in the country and one of the most fiercely fought between the national parties.

Among the black leaders endorsing Mr. Cardin yesterday were Mr. Cummings; state Sen. Verna Jones, chairman of the state legislature’s black caucus; and state Senate Majority Leader Nathaniel J. McFadden — all Baltimore Democrats who endorsed Mr. Mfume in the primary election.

Mr. Cardin beat Mr. Mfume, 43.7 percent to 40.4 percent, statewide but lost in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, two of the state’s most populated and heavily Democratic jurisdictions, which are also both more than 65 percent black.

In Baltimore, Mr. Cardin received 24,637 votes to Mr. Mfume’s 50,731, losing by 30.82 percent to 63.46 percent, according to unofficial results from the State Board of Elections.

The margin was wider In Prince George’s County, where Mr. Cardin lost by more than 52,000 votes or 18.71 percent to 69.79 percent, unofficial results show.

U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a black Maryland Democrat who endorsed Mr. Mfume, has not announced whom he will support in the general election.

Cardin campaign spokesman Oren Shur said that yesterday’s public endorsements were “important” in wooing support of black voters from Mr. Steele.

“Democrats are united,” Mr. Shur said.

Mr. Cardin, Mr. Cummings and others at the event linked Mr. Steele with President Bush, whose approval rating is about 34 percent in Maryland and even lower among the state’s black voters.

Mr. Cummings said Mr. Steele has hidden his positions on issues such as judicial nominations, stem-cell research, universal health care, education and the Iraq war.

“Where do you stand?” he said.

Mr. McFadden called out, “Behind George Bush,” eliciting laughter and cheers from the officials on the stage.

Also yesterday, Mr. Cardin pressed Mr. Steele to start “immediately” debating him twice a week, saying that Mr. Mfume “didn’t duck debates, we engaged in them.”

Steele campaign officials said that they have not been contacted by the Cardin campaign and that their phone calls and letters to the Cardin campaign have not been returned.

“That’s the old, ‘Oh he won’t debate me,’” Mr. Steele said. “You know, trust me, be ready.”

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