Gansler gets backing of black leaders

Wynn, Johnson endorse state's attorney candidate

August 02, 2006|By ANDREA F. SIEGEL | ANDREA F. SIEGEL,SUN REPORTER

Two of the most prominent political leaders in Prince George's County plan to announce today that they are backing Douglas F. Gansler for attorney general, giving the Montgomery County prosecutor key African-American support in the largest Democratic jurisdiction in Maryland.

The endorsements by Rep. Albert R. Wynn and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson are a sought-after boost for Gansler in the state's second-largest county, where African-Americans comprise a majority of the population.

They are also sobering news for the two other Democratic candidates seeking their party's nomination to replace retiring Democratic incumbent J. Joseph Curran Jr.: Stuart O. Simms, the former Baltimore state's attorney who is the only African-American candidate in the contest, and Thomas E. Perez, about half of whose Montgomery County council district lies in Wynn's congressional district.

A Sun poll last month showed Simms in a statistical tie with Gansler among likely primary voters, with a 15 percent to 12 percent advantage that was within the survey's 4.1 percentage point margin of error. Two of three likely voters were undecided.

"Obviously, this does hurt [Simms], not to have their endorsement," said C. Vernon Gray, a Morgan State University political science professor and former Howard County councilman.

The announcement is scheduled for this morning at Johnson's re-election campaign office in Largo. In a prepared statement yesterday, Wynn said he and Johnson believe Gansler has the "work ethic, experience and commitment to do a great job as attorney general."

African-Americans make up more than one-third of the registered Democrats in the state, party officials say, raising the importance of support from Prince George's Democrats. No candidate for attorney general hails from the county.

Gansler said the endorsements reflect the diverse appeal of his candidacy.

"Not only do they represent two of the most powerful positions in the county, but both Jack Johnson and Al Wynn have strong independent organizations, where they turn out the people and turn out the vote," Gansler said in an interview last night.

Gray, the Morgan State professor, said that black voters are not monolithic in their thinking and are willing to support qualified candidates of any race.

Simms campaign chairman Larry Gibson downplayed the importance of the individual endorsements, but noted that Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, who is black, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is white, are among elected officials with ties to the county who have endorsed Simms.

"If quantity of endorsements decides this, we feel very good; we have more to come," Gibson said. "Stu would like all endorsements, but he does not expect them to be unanimous."

The announcement comes as the Simms campaign undergoes a restructuring, shedding its manager and spokesperson. The changes are being made because "we simply could not afford a huge paid staff," Gibson said.

Simms was the running mate of Douglas M. Duncan, the Montgomery County executive who withdrew from the governor's race in June. As a result, the Simms campaign for attorney general got a late and ill-funded start. Duncan's campaign gave Simms $6,000, the maximum legal campaign transfer.

Luke Clippinger, campaign manager for Perez, said Perez was "seeking everybody's support" and building a grass-roots campaign. "Endorsements matter, but the message matters, too," he said.

Perez has the backing of large unions, whose members have turned out for candidate events and have the potential to send a large number of voters to the September primary. "That helps to mitigate this a little bit," Clippinger said.

The primary winner is expected to face Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle, the presumptive Republican nominee.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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