A parade of prominent Maryland Democrats endorsed Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign yesterday, saying that the candidate's national security experience best positions him to challenge President Bush in the fall.
Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, the state's two U.S. senators, along with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, topped the list of a dozen Democrats who announced their support for Kerry in Tuesday's primary in Maryland, one of 10 states holding contests that day.
Kerry is counting on the group to help build momentum before voters go to the polls. Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) is mounting an aggressive campaign for Maryland's 69 delegates.
The Maryland Democrats who announced their endorsement yesterday included Reps. Chris Van Hollen, Steny H. Hoyer, Benjamin L. Cardin and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger; Comptroller William Donald Schaefer; Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.; and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.
In a statement, the group alluded to Kerry's experience dealing with foreign policy in the Senate, saying they were supporting him because of "his strong record on national security and his positive vision to restore economic prosperity in America. He combines a 35-year record of fighting for Democratic values with a unique understanding of national security issues."
Campaign strategists have said that Edwards, who was elected to the Senate in 1998 and who has served for three years on the Senate intelligence committee, is vulnerable to criticism that he lacks experience in foreign policy. Kerry, on the other hand, served in Vietnam, and for two decades has sat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Hoyer, in a telephone interview, said the emphasis on national security was meant to bolster Kerry and not "as an anti-John Edwards statement."
"We think John Kerry is uniquely suited to respond to these issues," he said.
Whether political endorsements mean anything to voters is open to debate. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean is the latest example of a politician who does not seem to have benefited from big-name support -- in his case, from former vice president Al Gore and former senator Bill Bradley.
While acknowledging the limitations of endorsements, Hoyer said the broad base of Kerry's supporters in the political establishment suggests "that there is a belief that John Kerry is going to be our strongest possible candidate, and we hope that Maryland Democrats will give him a big vote."
Edwards's most prominent supporter in Maryland is Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D), who noted that the list of endorsements that Kerry released yesterday did not include such black politicians as Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.
"Was Elijah on the list? Was Jack on the list?" Wynn asked. "Leading African Americans are noticeably absent."
Told of Wynn's remarks, Hoyer pointed out that Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, who is black, has announced his support for Kerry. And he promised that another well-known black politician from Maryland -- he wouldn't identify the official -- would endorse Kerry later this week.
Wynn said that Edwards faces "an uphill battle in Maryland because Kerry has a lot of momentum and he's the front-runner."
But, he said, "As people find out about John Edwards, they gravitate towards him. We'll see what happens."