A meeting of the minds

TV forum reveals scant Cardin, Mfume dispute

Maryland Votes 2006


Maryland's two leading Democratic candidates for Senate offered similar views on Iraq, education and health care yesterday during a televised forum that provided few policy differences for undecided voters seeking information roughly three weeks before the primary election.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Kweisi Mfume, the former congressman and NAACP leader have participated in a series of candidate events together, but yesterday morning's appearance on Washington-area WJLA-TV Channel 7 - billed by the station as a debate - was only their second head-to-head encounter.

Mfume, who left his Baltimore-based congressional seat in 1996 to head the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he would be a "change agent" in Washington.

Cardin, a 10-term representative from Baltimore County, cited his vote against the Iraq war as an example of his willingness to buck the Bush administration, but said he can also "reach out and get things done to help the families of Maryland."

The candidates agreed that the U.S. military should immediately start drawing down troop levels in Iraq.

Cardin, 62, who voted against the war but for subsequent funding, said the international diplomatic community must help negotiate a cease-fire.

"Military experts have said that we can reduce our troops in Iraq at about 10,000 a month," Cardin said. "We don't need to have a time schedule, but we can start redeploying our troops. That will give a clear signal to the Iraqis that they need to take care of their own security."

Mfume, 57, who noted that he voted against the first Iraq war launched by President Bush's father, said more United Nations troops are needed on the ground.

"It's not what it's supposed to be, and it's now turned into a civil war," he said, adding, "We ought to start the process now of drawing down troops, get our troops home, bring them home to a hero's welcome, and then try to find a way to use that money to do real homeland security."

When asked whether airstrikes should be used against Iran's burgeoning nuclear threat, both men cautioned that diplomatic avenues should first be exhausted.

"This administration does not understand diplomacy," Cardin said. "They need to use diplomacy to reach out and get international support. Iran is a dangerous country; they are developing nuclear weapons. We have to make sure that does not happen."

Mfume agreed. "We need to be prepared to use our troops and our readiness if that becomes the case, but prior to that we've got to find a way to use all back channels, all diplomatic approaches and sanctions to make sure that we achieve the same goal," he said.

The candidates also said that they feel Americans are safer now than they were before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Cardin said that airports are safer today but that the country should be investing more money on equipment to detect liquid bombs. He also said that the money the country has spent fighting the Iraq war would be better devoted to port safety.

"First let me say the $300 billion that we have spent in Iraq represents missed opportunity," Cardin said. "That money could've been used to make our ports more secure. We should be inspecting every container in some form or another."

Mfume said that Cardin "had a good point" and that investments should be made as well in strengthening the Coast Guard.

Mfume and Cardin acknowledged their similarities while also trying to distinguish themselves to voters deciding on a successor to retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes. Channel 7 anchors Kathleen Matthews and Leon Harris questioned the candidates repeatedly about possible distinctions in their respective approaches to issues, but found few.

"What is the difference between what both of you would do when it comes to our energy crisis?" Matthews said.

"Do we know what we would do differently?" Mfume said, breaking into laughter.

"I think you may have found some similarity," Cardin chimed in.

"I think both of us would agree we need an energy policy in this country that makes us energy-independent," Cardin added. "We need to use alternative fuels and renewables. We need to put the money into research. We need to put the money into conservation."

"Any differences?" Harris asked Mfume after Cardin completed his answer.

"Just some additions," Mfume said, noting that the government needs to re-evaluate mandated average fuel standards for automobiles.

"We ought to investigate as to whether or not there's even collusion in the oil and gas industry," Mfume said.

On immigration and the question before Congress of how the nation's undocumented workers should be treated, Mfume said the country has to provide them with "pathways to citizenship."

"I think any undocumented worker here ought to want to become a United States citizen, quite frankly," he said. "And I think the initial approach of building a 700-mile wall around our country was kind of foolish and foolhardy."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.