Black voters in Maryland gave a decided edge to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton over former Massachusetts Sen. Paul E. Tsongas yesterday.
But for many African-Americans, there was little enthusiasm for this presidential race. Some said the five Democratic candidates were not addressing the black constituency.
In the end, Mr. Clinton managed to emerge from the pack to capture as much as 56 percent of Maryland's black vote, according to one exit poll.
"Clinton's people did a good job," said Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th. "Certainly, the endorsement of [Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke] helped him in the city. Besides, I did not see much of a campaign in the city by the other candidates."
At Baltimore's Grove Park Elementary School, the flow of voters was "slow, very slow," said Joe Braswell, one of the polling place judges. That had not been the case in 1988, when the two voting precincts went for the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson by a better than 11-to-1 margin over Michael S. Dukakis, the eventual nominee.
While Mr. Clinton did not display Jackson-like dominance among black voters, interviews with voters at key black precincts showed he more than held his own.
At one of the Grove Park precincts, Mr. Clinton beat Mr. Tsongas by better than 2-to-1. Three precincts located at northeast Baltimore's Winston Middle School went for Mr. Clinton by almost a 3-1 margin over Mr. Tsongas. At Fort Worthington Elementary School in East Baltimore, Mr. Clinton outpolled Mr. Tsongas by better than 3-to-1.
In Prince George's County, many of those voting said they were more interested in the U.S. House candidates running in the new majority-black congressional district than those aspiring to the presidency.
Ted Boyd, a federal worker from Kettering, chose "uncommitted," saying, "I wanted to keep the options open, although I'm leaning to Tsongas."
On Sunday, Mr. Jackson swept into Baltimore and urged voters to head to the polls, although he declined to endorse a candidate. His silence on a candidate was echoed by several other popular figures, including Mr. Mfume.
At the New Shiloh Baptist Church, one of the city's largest Baptist congregations, some 2,500 ebullient parishioners made their feelings known about the candidates. They shouted, "Run, Jesse, run!"
"People are just not motivated," said Brenda Bowie of Baltimore County, before she attended the service Sunday. "I'm so indecisive. Schmoke is supporting Clinton, I'm not sure about him."
Mr. Jackson also appeared at the Sharon Baptist Church, where the Rev. Alfred C. D. Vaughn, told several hundred of his parishioners that he too was undecided.
"The Lord hasn't said anything to me about anybody running for president," he declared from the pulpit. "I'm tired of folks taking us for granted."
Mr. Vaughn also told his congregation that a candidate "messed up" by "insulting" Mr. Jackson, a reference to the Arkansas governor's verbal attack on Mr. Jackson, whom he mistakenly believed had backed Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.
"I was thinking about voting for Clinton, but I got skeptical when he talked about Jackson," said Larry Hardy, a 24-year-old security guard who supported Mr. Harkin.
"I heard he supported civil rights and generally was supportive of issues of concern to blacks," Mr. Hardy said."
But few black voters interviewed mentioned the Jackson-Clinton flap, and Mr. Clinton apparently left it far behind yesterday.
Joyce Hall, 34, of Baltimore said she voted for Mr. Clinton mainly because he enjoyed the endorsement of Mayor Schmoke. Also, Ms. Hall said, she knew precious little about the other candidates.
Will Jackson, 27, said he also voted for Mr. Clinton. He felt he hadlittle choice.
"I just saw him much more than anybody," Mr. Jackson said. "And I know Schmoke supported him, that helped a little."
The fact that Mr. Clinton was able to distinguish himself apparently surprised Mr. Schmoke.
"Many of the Democrats, because of the Jackson presence in the past, conceded the black vote to Jackson and developed strategies that went after other groups of voters," Mr. Schmoke said.
As a result, he and others said, the candidates did not speak directly to black voters. But, Mr. Schmoke added, the candidates have addressed issues that blacks should be concerned about, including education and the economy.
"I don't want to see black people get isolated from the rest of the party. I think we have to be seen as part of the mainstream," Mr. Schmoke said.