Getting out their message

Candidates stump as time winds down

Campaign Day

Maryland Votes 2006

November 03, 2006|By Andrew A. Green and Jennifer Skalka | Andrew A. Green and Jennifer Skalka,Sun reporters

With opinion polls showing the races for governor and U.S. Senate tightening, Maryland candidates grabbed yesterday at their last few opportunities to get their messages out to voters.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele continued their fight for support in the black community; Mayor Martin O'Malley worked to excite his base; and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. followed his own advice to vote absentee yesterday, as some of the dominant story lines in Maryland's frenzied campaign season came to a head.

Cardin, a Democrat, counterattacked in Prince George's County, days after Steele, his Republican opponent for U.S. Senate, announced that he had the support of a former county executive and five county councilmen - all black Democrats. The congressman held a rally in which he was backed by more than 50 elected officials from the vote-rich jurisdiction.

That event, and another for Steele later in the day, highlighted how much the campaign has become a debate over what will motivate African-American voters - the issues that historically have bound most to the Democratic Party or shared experience with a Republican who is black.

"This race is not about race," said Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a black Democrat. "It's about the fight to re-establish the core values of America, like family, community and access to jobs and educational opportunity."

Cardin advocates, including Johnson, State's Attorney Glen F. Ivey and Rep. Albert R. Wynn, urged voters to support Cardin, who is white, because of his experience and policy views. Steele's race, they said, should not be the driving factor for black voters. Neither, they added, should Cardin's win over Kweisi Mfume, a former president of the NAACP.

But hours later, Steele stood in front of the State House under a statue of Thurgood Marshall, the Marylander who was the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, and accepted the endorsement of more than two dozen ministers, almost all of them black.

Many said they are Democrats who are crossing party lines to support Steele because he shares their values. They talked not about issues such as the Iraq war, on which Steele's views differ from those of many blacks, but of his interest in fighting poverty and boosting education.

"Throughout his history as lieutenant governor and through his life, he has demonstrated a concern for our community," said Jim Thompson, the pastor of Integrity Church in Landover.

A Sun poll released yesterday showed Cardin with a 6-point lead over Steele, down from 12 points six weeks ago.

Race has been a major issue throughout the Senate campaign, but more so since Cardin defeated Mfume, who is black, in the primary.

Mfume was not on hand for Cardin's event in Prince George's County, but his photograph and remarks about Cardin appeared on a flier circulated by the congressman's staff. Showing a grinning Cardin next to Mfume, Mfume is quoted as saying, "He's going to make a damn good senator."

In this week's Afro American, however, Mfume lamented the lack of diversity among the Democratic candidates for statewide office. "It is ironic and unfortunate that the Democratic statewide ticket for the four major positions in 2006 looks like the Democratic statewide ticket for the four major positions in 1956," Mfume said, a reference to the quartet of white males running for governor, senator, attorney general and comptroller.

Wynn, who supported Mfume in the primary, said he has known Cardin for 24 years and that he has the compassion and work ethic to represent all Marylanders.

"I believe Ben Cardin is right for our community," he said.

Steele has tried to steer the debate away from topics such as the Iraq war - on which his position is held by a minority of Marylanders - and toward a message of economic empowerment. He signed a pledge yesterday that he called his "Marshall Plan," which included promises to introduce anti-poverty legislation, to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act, increase college scholarships, expand opportunities for minority businesses and combat the spread of AIDS.

That message will attract minorities to cross party lines, said Bishop Harry Jackson, who heads the High Impact Leadership Coalition. "We're here to support a man who upholds a moral code that is critical for our state and nation," said Jackson, a Democrat who backed President Bush in 2004.

O'Malley continued a statewide bus tour yesterday, starting in Ocean City and finishing at Morgan State University in Baltimore, where the state's top Democrats gathered for a rally.

Every candidate on the statewide ticket appeared, as well as retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Chris Van Hollen and Wynn.

The party brought out-of-state firepower, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio - to rally the couple of hundred Democrats at the university's student center.

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