Steele could face challenge in attracting black voters

Survey shows Cardin or Mfume would get far more support in matchup

The Sun Poll


With the potential for more statewide African-American candidates on the ballot in 2006 than ever before, the importance of black votes is reaching a zenith in Maryland.

The issue of race is particularly salient in the contest for U.S. Senate, where Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the presumed Republican nominee, stands as a symbol of a party that has set a national goal of making gains in minority communities.

Still, The Sun Poll released this week shows that Steele faces a challenge as he tries to overcome decades of history and persuade blacks to support his candidacy.

The two leading Democratic candidates for Senate, U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and former congressman and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chief Kweisi Mfume, each would receive far more support from blacks than Steele in potential head-to-head general election matchups, the survey shows.

Among African-Americans, Cardin leads Steele 56 percent to 19 percent, while Mfume leads the lieutenant governor 67 percent to 15 percent. The telephone survey of 1,008 likely voters, by Potomac Inc., has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

Steele campaign spokesman Leonardo Alcivar says the lieutenant governor will make gains among black voters as the campaign progresses.

"These numbers support what the lieutenant governor knows: The African-American community is not a monolith," Alcivar said. "As he begins his dialogue with voters across the state of Maryland, we believe voters' support will grow every day."

The issue of whether a conservative black Republican is a good representative for black Marylanders - who made up about 18 percent of those surveyed - swirled in talk radio and conservative media circles last week.

Late last month, a liberal blog run by an African-American in New York City posted a doctored image of Steele in minstrel makeup. Blogger Steve Gilliard said he is critical of Steele because the lieutenant governor did not promptly condemn a fundraiser held by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. at an all-white country club last summer.

Some black Democratic officials said in a follow-up article in The Washington Times that Steele invited racially tinged criticism because of his political views.

While the officials said their comments were taken out of context to make them intentionally inflammatory, the story angered the lieutenant governor and his supporters.

Even with the historic prospect of Senate nominees from both major parties being black - plus the strong possibility of more minority candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general - Mfume said race will not dominate the campaign for long.

"The real factor here is, Michael Steele has not had a chance to talk about where he is on issues, or define himself," Mfume said.

Mfume said he wants to build on his base of support among blacks and other minorities, and said polls do not accurately capture the focus of his campaign's outreach.

"To us, the real factor that will make a difference is not likely voters, but unlikely voters - voters not counted by pollsters," he said.

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