Mfume, Cardin on frenzied pace in final days before the primary

Democrats gallop to the finish

Maryland Votes 2006

September 07, 2006|By Jennifer Skalka and Matthew Hay Brown | Jennifer Skalka and Matthew Hay Brown,Sun reporters

Making their final push with five days to go before the primary, the leading Democratic candidates for a Maryland U.S. Senate seat are filling their schedules with strategic appearances, with one working to shore up his base while the other strives to pump up supporters to get out the vote.

Former congressman and NAACP chief Kweisi Mfume will work through the weekend to solidify his core backers in the black community - his schedule takes him to Largo and Landover in Prince George's County, Morgan State University and a crab feast in Baltimore County for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin is reaching out to black leaders, making an appearance Friday at the Congressional Black Caucus dinner in Washington, but he is spending much of his time rallying supporters around the state who will go door to door for him on election day Tuesday.

The nomination contest has been a polite, largely issues-focused affair between old friends who have few policy differences - and more than a dozen lesser-known candidates struggling to gain ground in the polls. Cardin and Mfume have been running for almost a year and a half, and their campaign schedules over the past several weeks have hardly been vigorous. The two have debated, but seldom sparred, and they go into the final days with Cardin ahead in public opinion surveys and fundraising.

Donald F. Norris, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the staid nature of the campaign can be attributed to Cardin's front-runner status.

"I think he has confidence in the numbers," Norris said. "He's also got a ton of money. Mfume, on the other hand, doesn't have any money to speak of, and there's not much more that he can do."

Cardin launched a television advertisement - his fourth - in the Washington market yesterday. It highlights The Washington Post's endorsement of his campaign.

He and Mfume are vying for the opportunity to run against Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who has kept a relatively low profile during primary season - forgoing a candidates forum yesterday evening in Baltimore that drew hopefuls from both parties.

After a candidates' debate on the Mark Plotkin Show on WTOP radio, Mfume starts the day today at a National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters in Washington. He heads to a retirees meeting in Silver Spring, a Howard County candidates picnic, the Northwest Baltimore County Democratic Club Crab Feast in Owings Mills and a meeting with educators in Ellicott City.

Cardin will be on Capitol Hill today. His schedule ramps up tomorrow with a banking group forum in Landover, a visit to Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore and a swing by the grand opening of the Heritage Boys and Girls Clubs of Annapolis. Mfume will also participate in the banking event. He will then head to Morgan State University for an event sponsored by college Democrats. In the evening, he will make an appearance at the Delta Sigma Theta's crab feast.

Cardin will speak to supporters Saturday at get-out-the-vote rallies in Towson, Upper Marlboro and Baltimore.

In many ways, the contest's long-shot candidates have kept the more rigorous schedules. Montgomery County businessman and philanthropist Joshua B. Rales, who has crisscrossed the state in recent weeks on his "Driving Change" bus tour, visited senior centers in Silver Spring and Rockville yesterday.

Rales has been starting his days early, greeting commuters at Metro stops and diners during the morning rush. After a break last night to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary with his wife, he planned a full schedule of appearances through the weekend.

Rales, who has committed more than $5 million of his money to his campaign, said the people he is meeting can be persuaded to vote for him. "There are people that tell me every day that they're still thinking about what's going on in the election," he said. "Some haven't made up their minds."

"For the final five days of this campaign, from sunup to sundown, [Cardin] is going to be meeting with voters and continuing to talk about issues like strengthening Maryland's economy, making health care affordable for every Maryland family and holding the Bush administration accountable for the situation in Iraq," said Ken Morley, Cardin's campaign manager.

Mfume's spokesman Steve Marinoff described a similarly busy final weekend for his candidate.

"We know there's more work to be done, and he wants to touch as many voters directly and meet with as many constituents as possible between now and primary night," he said.

jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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