When C. Anthony Muse announced in January that he would challenge U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin in next week’s Maryland Democratic primary, a capacity crowd at a Bowie banquet facility cheered, heralding him as the politician who could help Prince George’s County get the representation it deserved.
Muse, a state senator and well-known pastor, admitted then that he faced an uphill battle in seeking to unseat Cardin. His prediction has proved correct, as Cardin is expected to win next Tuesday.
Though no polling has been released in the race, Cardin has a statewide profile Muse can’t match. A Washington Post survey released in January showed that 47 percent of registered voters in Maryland approved of the job Cardin was doing, while 20 percent disapproved. Another January poll showed Cardin with a 65 percent approval rating among Democrats.
Cardin has won the endorsements of several prominent Democrats, led by President Obama, who cast his lot with the incumbent in November and made a well-publicized stop for barbecue with Cardin last week following a speech in Prince George’s County. Cardin also has the backing of County Executive Rushern Baker and Gov. Martin O’Malley, among others.
On the financial front, Cardin has raised nearly $5 million for the cycle and had $1.9 million in the bank as of March 14. Muse has not filed fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission, even though his pre-primary report was due last Thursday.
In an interview, Muse declined to say how much money he had raised but said he was pleased with the campaign’s progress. “It is going extremely well,” he said. “We have offices from Carroll County to the Eastern Shore.”
He said he believes he can beat Cardin and is not running a symbolic campaign. “As I traveled the state four or five months before I made the announcement, I was sure that I could win this race and I am sure that I can win this race now,” Muse said. “I’m in it to win it, not to make a statement. I can do that as a state senator in a million different ways.”
Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Muse’s chances were “pretty slim,” though she noted that Cardin’s decision to air television ads “is an indication that he’s taking nothing for granted.”
Currently in his second stint in the General Assembly, Muse is the pastor at Ark of Safety Christian Church in Upper Marlboro. Supporters say Muse will advocate for people disenfranchised from the political system.
Samuel H. Dean, a former member of the Prince George’s County Council, said some locals are looking to Muse’s election to have issues addressed that Cardin has ignored. “We’ve had some major problems here in Prince George’s. We are leading the state in foreclosures. We’ve had a major problem with funding for roads. The school system is in disarray,” Dean said. “We need to have someone who understands the issues here.”
Some African Americans are also still smarting from Cardin’s election six years ago. At the time, some black Prince George’s County leaders hoped that the state Democratic party would support an African American for the seat vacated by longtime U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D).
Cardin’s campaign disputes the notion that he has not represented Prince George’s well.
“He has said repeatedly he is running on his accomplishments and he has got a very strong list of projects and initiatives where he has worked with local officials to help meet their needs and [those of] the people of Prince George’s County,” said Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky.
Among the examples she cited were Cardin’s securing of funding for Metro improvements and planning of the Purple Line, for the creation of the county’s Africa Trade Office, and for improvements to Route 1 in College Park.
During this legislative session, Muse has sometimes gone his own way. He stood as the only senator from Prince George’s to oppose O’Malley’s proposed income tax hike. He was also the only Democratic senator to vote against the governor’s congressional redistricting map. He raised the ire of some in his party when he voted against the same-sex marriage law.
The level of institutional party support for Cardin has frustrated Muse. At a state Democratic party luncheon in Annapolis in January, O’Malley and Rep. Steny Hoyer urged the crowd to back Cardin, after which Muse jumped on stage and asked to be heard. “Only after the primary do we endorse those that the people have said is our Democratic nominee,” Muse said.
Obama may be backing Cardin but that has not stopped Muse from seeking to link himself to the president. His campaign has distributed a “sample ballot” — a copy of which was posted online by the blog Maryland Juice — that says “Obama Muse Making History Together,” with pictures of the two men side by side. The same sample ballot includes a chart showing the composition of the U.S. Senate, noting that the chamber it has no African Americans. The chart also shows that there are 12 Jewish members of the Senate, even though Jews make up roughly 2 percent of the U.S. population. Cardin is Jewish, though the ballot does not mention that fact.
The flier drew criticism this week from the liberal group People for the American Way, which suggested on its blog that the chart “seems to go out of its way to imply there are too many Jews in the Senate. What legitimate reason is there to include a count of Jews in this tally, when there is no count of any other religious group?” Asked about the chart Wednesday, Muse dismissed the criticism.said, “This is nothing more than an attempt to be negative.”