- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

One question remained after the two leading Democrats in Maryland’s U.S. Senate primary debated for more than an hour in front of an audience of black pastors in Prince George’s County yesterday.

“How do the two of you differ?” the moderator asked.

“A lot of times we seem to be very similar,” Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin said. “I think we’re different.”

“We get this question all the time,” said former NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman.

Mr. Cardin and Mr. Mfume, whose contest will be decided in Tuesday’s primary, emphasized that they have avoided negative attacks and have focused on issues.

“We’ve been doing this in the right way,” Mr. Cardin said.

But after opening statements and 10 rounds of questions on issues ranging from the war in Iraq and genocide in Sudan to mandatory minimum sentencing and same-sex “marriage,” their responses provided little to separate the two candidates.

Whoever wins Tuesday likely will face Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican, in the general election.

Yesterday’s debate was held at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover.

Mr. Cardin and Mr. Mfume spent much of the hour yesterday agreeing on issue after issue, giving similar answers to the members of the Collective Banking Group Inc., which was formed to fight discriminatory lending against black churches.

On the question of bringing federal facilities to Prince George’s, Mr. Mfume said, “Ben and I feel pretty much the same way.”

On federal funding for faith-based ministries, Mr. Cardin said, “Kweisi and I are in agreement about much of what has been said.”

After the Rev. Jonathan Weaver posed the last question — “How do you differ?” — one pastor in the audience piped up, “That’s the same question I was going to ask.”

Mr. Cardin noted one difference. “Kweisi Mfume is a much better speaker than I am,” he said. “I think I bring to this race more experience and more accomplishments.”

Mr. Mfume said, “Ben is older than me, and I have more hair and mine is still black.”

Mr. Cardin joined in the laughter at Mr. Mfume’s joke.

Then Mr. Mfume talked about getting “special interest money” out of the political process and publicly financed campaigns, “so elections are not bought off by millionaires or billionaires.”

Mr. Mfume has faced significant fundraising obstacles over his 17-month campaign, raising $1.1 million to Mr. Cardin’s $5.5 million.

Mr. Steele has raised $5.2 million. As of Aug. 23, he had $3.1 million left, compared with Mr. Cardin’s $1.6 million and Mr. Mfume’s $307,437.

After the debate, some pastors said they appreciated the civility between Mr. Cardin and Mr. Mfume.

“I appreciate these guys treating each other with human respect, modeling before the community what it ought to be about,” said the Rev. John K. Jenkins Sr., pastor of First Baptist Church of Glenarden.

But Mr. Weaver said he saw “very little difference” between the two candidates.

“If we had had two candidates that had very divergent views, I don’t think that’s an unhealthy thing, because then people could see that they have a very distinct choice,” he said.

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