Senate candidate Keyes pounds the pavement

October 26, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Jay McMillion likes the Keyes for Senate billboard, the one with the likeness of Alan L. Keyes and the question, "Why not one of us?"

"I'm not prejudiced," said the 32-year-old tow-truck driver, "but we don't have any blacks at all in the U.S. Senate."

That's the kind of response the Keyes campaign had in mind from black Baltimoreans. But for many who stopped to talk with the 42-year-old Republican candidate this weekend, the answer to the billboard's question was not always so agreeable.

Many of the people he saw this weekend said they identified with his opponent, Barbara A. Mikulski. The Democratic incumbent grew up in East Baltimore, served in the City Council, the U.S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate -- before Mr. Keyes came to Maryland to begin a political career.

In addition to his tour of black neighborhoods Saturday, the candidate visited a few nightspots on Friday and spoke from the pulpit at New Solid Rock Church yesterday morning. He was introduced in church by Pastor Bennett Donnell as "a man of vision."

Many of the people he met on Saturday seemed to have his opponent's name on their minds when they thought about the U.S. Senate race. And if they weren't solidly committed to her, they almost apologized.

Even Jay McMillion, the truck driver who plans to vote for Mr. Keyes, mentioned his opponent: "Barbara Mikulski's done a lot, but Keyes deserves a chance."

"I'm for Barbara Mikulski," said Phyllis Stokes just after Mr. Keyes handed her a brochure on the campus of Morgan State University. "I like what she's doing, and I'm going to vote for the best candidate whatever their skin color. She's been fighting for us for a long time."

Still, Mr. Keyes campaigned as if relishing the fact that he is going against the grain: against the overwhelming registration advantage of Democrats in Baltimore, against a well-financed incumbent and against the view, frequently volunteered during his neighborhood tour on Saturday, that Republicans fail to address the concerns of black candidates -- or blatantly ignore them.

Mr. Keyes was doing well even before he arrived for the weekend tour.

Several enthusiastic supporters pulled into the parking lot where volunteers were decorating the tour bus.

"I'm for Keyes," said Bill Shelley, a 34-year-old Charles County resident who works in the Baltimore ambulance corps. "I want to get some support in the Congress behind President Bush."

Mr. Shelley owns four houses, and he wants Republicans in power because they offer a better break on capital gains taxes, a matter of concern to him as he rehabilitates and resells his properties.

Before the Keyes bus left, another ambulance crewman, Steve Buckman, came by to get Keyes literature. Mr. Buckman resents the welfare system, calling it an imprisoning failure backed by liberals such as his opponent.

"I do get a bit of an attitude, because I do see programs go astray and definitely taken advantage of," Mr. Buckman said.

When Mr. Keyes arrived, the ambulance man left and the tour began. First stop, the Cherry Hill Shopping Center.

Mr. Keyes handed a brochure to Irene Briscoe, 63, on her way home after a shopping trip.

Mrs. Briscoe said she will vote for Barbara Mikulski.

"Isn't she running for the Senate? She's a Democrat," Mrs. Briscoe said.

"If you can't vote for him," said a Keyes aide, D. J. Douglas, "pray for him."

After a run through the grocery, the candidate met James Johnson, an AMTRAK employee, now disabled, exuberantly pro-Keyes.

"You've got my vote!" he said and the two men embraced.

"Why didn't they have that debate on [commercial] television?" Mr. Johnson asked. Mr. Keyes said Ms. Mikulski refused to debate except on public television because she knows few blacks watch it.

"They didn't want so many of us to see it," the candidate said.

"You were telling the truth at the Republican convention," Mr. Johnson continues, referring to Mr. Keyes' disputes with GOP leaders over a variety of issues. "When we tell the truth, they kick us," the candidate said, "but we get back up."

As the bus was pulling away, Mr. Johnson said: "Barbara Mikulski's got to go. She's just sitting down there in Washington."

Old programs

During a brief stop outside the Lexington Market, the candidate handed his literature to retired carpenter John Byrd, 75.

"He's got a tough opponent to whup," Mr. Byrd said with a shake of his head.

You think Mikulski is good? he was asked by a reporter.

"I know she's good," he said.

Mr. Keyes promises to reject old programs that have failed, to work against government waste, to support term limitations for members of congress, to oppose higher taxes, to vote for a balanced budget amendment -- to be an independent Republican.

The message does not always get through. Mr. Byrd said he will not look beyond Ms. Mikulski.

"I'm committed to her," he said.

Mr. Keyes found thousands of voters to buttonhole at the campus of Morgan State University where students and alumni gathered for a game against Delaware State on Saturday afternoon.

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