Emphasis on turnout

Md. candidates drive hard for African-American vote

Maryland Votes 2006

November 04, 2006|By Jennifer Skalka and Doug Donovan | Jennifer Skalka and Doug Donovan,Sun reporters

BOWIE -- Illinois Sen. Barack Obama told an audience of 1,000 mostly African-American Democrats yesterday that they should not cast ballots for Republican Senate candidate Michael S. Steele simply because he is black, making a plea to them to consider their party loyalties just four days before the election.

But Steele, at an earlier forum a dozen miles away, stressed that he is more able than Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin to bring needed change to Washington.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley also brought their messages to another key battleground, Baltimore County. The county boosted Ehrlich - who grew up in Arbutus - into office in 2002.

Turnout was a prominent theme of the day, with Democrats, in particular, urging supporters to bring their friends and neighbors to the polls. They also chided Republicans for circulating a guide for poll workers that the Democrats said encourages intimidation.

Obama was wildly received at Bowie State University in Prince George's County during a unity event featuring the entire Democratic ticket - including Cardin and O'Malley - and a host of party leaders, past and present.

"I think it's great that the Republican Party has discovered black people," said Obama, a rising Democratic star who is pondering a presidential run in 2008. "I'm being sincere. I want them to compete for the African-American vote. ... Here's the thing now that I think everybody needs to understand: You don't vote for somebody because of what they look like; you vote for what they stand for."

Earlier in the day, Steele, Cardin and third-party Senate candidate Kevin Zeese squared off in their final forum, held by the Collective Banking Group, a Washington-area coalition of black religious leaders.

The appearances of the Senate candidates in largely black Prince George's County marked the latest round of lobbying for the state's critical African-American vote, which could compose up to a quarter of Tuesday's turnout.

Steele, a Prince George's County resident, is hoping to draw black support away from Cardin, a white 10-term congressman and former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates.

During the forum, Steele said, "What I hope to bring to Washington is the kind of change that will bring you to the table."

Cardin criticized Republicans for the guide that came to light this week and urged Steele to denounce it. "That's voter suppression," he said.

Steele's camp later took Cardin to task for saying during the forum that he wasn't in Congress when the Patriot Act became law. A spokesman said in a statement that Cardin is "angry and bitter at his own fumbling debate performances and his campaign's downward spiral."

A Cardin spokesman, Oren Shur, said Cardin simply misspoke.

Obama's visit to Maryland was his second of the general election season, an effort to answer Steele's call for change with the black community's most visible national figure. The audience, many of whom clutched the senator's new book, The Audacity of Hope, stood rapt in the school gymnasium as Obama spoke for about a half-hour. He urged voters not to be taken by a candidate's "pretty smile" and looks - even as attendees snapped his photo on their cell phone cameras.

"When people pay attention, the Democrats do just fine," he said.

The Ehrlich campaign headed to eastern Baltimore County yesterday, a largely working-class area long one of the strongest parts of his political base, to wave at drivers and push his opposition to the use of eminent domain for economic development, a hot button issue for political conservatives.

The governor pulled up to the intersection of Merritt Boulevard and Wise Avenue just before noon, greeting campaign workers who were waving Ehrlich signs. O'Malley and his volunteers had been doing the same thing three hours before.

Ehrlich said he loves Dundalk because the people there let you know what they think, and yesterday they did, some of them honking their approval, others yelling "O'Malley rules!" as they drove by.

At a news conference in Harford County early yesterday, Ehrlich announced a police initiative to combat gang violence in a predominantly black neighborhood in Edgewood. He said the GOP is no longer willing to concede the African-American vote to Democrats and vowed to compete for their affections.

"We are going after African-American votes on the basis of our record," he said.

O'Malley spent most of yesterday stumping for support in the heart of Ehrlich's base.

The Baltimore mayor began his day at 7:30 a.m. in Dundalk, joining about 80 of his volunteers and supporters to wave at cars passing through the busy intersection of Merritt Boulevard and Holabird Avenue.

Talk about working for votes: when a pickup truck stalled, O'Malley and his running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown - both wearing black leather jackets - darted behind it with several others to push it through the intersection.

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