Monday, September 25, 2006

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin has called on U.S. Sen. Barack Obama to woo black voters in his Senate run against Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a black Republican making inroads in Maryland minority communities that typically vote Democrat.

“I think he will be helpful for energizing my campaign,” Mr. Cardin said of plans to campaign tomorrow with the Illinois Democrat, the country’s only black senator. “I think he will attract all voters of Maryland.”

Mr. Cardin, 62, a white 10-term congressman from Baltimore, yesterday did not acknowledge racial considerations in teaming with Mr. Obama against Mr. Steele, 47, the first black elected statewide in Maryland.

“I think [Mr. Obama’s visit] just points out the importance of this election,” Mr. Cardin told reporters during a campaign stop at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore.

“This is an election that no one is taking for granted,” he said. “We’re certainly working very hard at it.”

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

Mr. Obama yesterday also discounted Mr. Steele’s appeal among black voters.

“He may get some African-American votes, but it won’t be substantial,” Mr. Obama said. “I think the African-American community is not just going to look at someone’s skin color, but what their agenda is, and Cardin has a longer track record of working on behalf of the African-American community in Maryland, much longer than Mr. Steele does.”

Steele campaign spokesman Doug Heye said the event with Mr. Obama shows Mr. Cardin scrambling to connect with black voters. He cited Mr. Cardin’s narrow win in the Democratic primary over former NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume, 43.8 percent to 40.4 percent, despite outspending him by about $3 million on TV ads.

“Michael Steele has reached out to African-American voters at an unprecedented level,” Mr. Heye said. “The Cardin campaign has good reason to be scared of losing those voters. … It is a clear sign that [the Cardin] camp is scared to death.”

Mr. Obama said that Mr. Steele is “an affable person,” but that his record is “pretty thin.”

He also said Mr. Steele will turn off black voters who remain “frustrated with the lack of concrete recommendations from the Republican Party as to how they would improve the lives of working-class folks across the country.”

Mr. Obama is scheduled to lead a Cardin rally in Prince George’s County, where Mr. Cardin and Mr. Steele are vying for supporters of Mr. Mfume.

Mr. Mfume lost to Mr. Cardin in the Sept. 12 primary, but he won by tens of thousands of votes in Prince George’s County and in Baltimore — two of the state’s most populous and heavily Democratic jurisdictions. They also are more than 65 percent black.

The Cardin rally tomorrow at the University of Maryland College Park also will feature endorsements by locally elected Democratic state officials. Mr. Cardin recently held a similar rally in Baltimore.

Mr. Obama, whose rousing speech at the 2004 Democratic convention made him a star to liberals, has been in high demand by his party’s candidates in tight races.

Last week, Mr. Obama campaigned in Virginia for Democrat James H. Webb Jr.’s Senate run against Sen. George Allen, a Republican. The visit was touted as a confirmation of Mr. Webb’s liberal credentials.

Mr. Cardin doesn’t need that kind of validation. He voted against going to war in Iraq and last year received a 95 percent rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action.

Black voters are key in the Nov. 7 election.

Mr. Cardin depends on black voters to preserve the Democratic Party’s dominance in Maryland, where blacks account for much of the party’s 2-to-1 advantage over Republicans in voter registration.

Maryland has nearly 900,000 registered Republicans and about 1.7 million registered Democrats, of which an estimated 700,000 are black.

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