Cummings And Wynn To Back Mfume

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Maryland's two black congressmen will formally endorse Kweisi Mfume's U.S. Senate bid today as Mfume and his chief Democratic rival, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, strive to lock up support from African American voters.

Mfume will couple endorsements from Democratic Reps. Albert R. Wynn and Elijah E. Cummings with the launch of his first advertisements after more than a year of campaigning. Mfume bought time on eight radio stations this week and has a television ad that will start airing in the Baltimore and Washington markets Saturday.

Cardin also continued his push for support within the African American community this week, meeting with Baltimore ministers yesterday to discuss the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and launching an ad on four radio stations that target black audiences. He has been airing television ads for weeks.

"The African American vote is decisive to any Democrat who is running," said Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland. "You can't do without them."

Blacks make up about 40 percent of Democratic primary voters, Walters said, so it is no surprise to see Mfume and Cardin aggressively courting them.

Mfume, who has headed the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP during his career, has a campaign strategy that counts on his winning as much as 80 percent of that voting bloc.

In polls, he has held a commanding lead among black voters. A Washington Post poll conducted in June showed Mfume leading Cardin among African Americans 65 percent to 7 percent, with the other respondents undecided or supporting one of 16 other candidates in the Democratic primary. An independent statewide poll released yesterday by Gonzales Research and Marketing showed Mfume leading among blacks 68 percent to 14 percent for Cardin.

But Cardin said yesterday said he is pursuing African American voters with a fervor, attending three to four events a week that are tailored to minority voters.

"The reaction I've gotten has been consistent and extremely favorable," Cardin said. "I think that's because of the issues I'm putting forward and because of my record."

Yesterday, Cardin sat with 15 church leaders in the basement of Macedonia Baptist Church in Baltimore and for 45 minutes discussed the bitter feelings that remain a year after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

After the discussion, the ministers lingered over coffee and pastries to talk politics. Several were solidly behind Cardin, but others had reservations about standing in the way of electing a second African American to the U.S. Senate.

"Frankly, I'm between a rock and a hard place," said the Rev. Willie E. Ray, a West Baltimore pastor. "It's a tossup. But I'll tell you this: It will be decided on character more than race."

Matthew Jones, president of the United Baptist Missionary Convention and Auxiliaries of Maryland, said that he was not disclosing his pick for the Senate race but that he believes endorsements Mfume is receiving from Cummings and Wynn are significant.

"They're going to have a major impact," Jones said.

Walters said that although the endorsements come too late for Mfume to benefit much from the fundraising clout of Wynn and Cummings, the candidate will be able to tap into their organizations for support on the day of the primary, Sept. 12.

Pastor John Louis Wright, a past president of the United Baptist Missionary Convention, which represents more than 200 congregations in the state, voiced emphatic support for Cardin yesterday, and he is heard in the radio ad Cardin will air on two Baltimore and two Washington area stations at a cost of $15,000.

"We cannot tell you how to vote, but we can tell you who we are supporting: Ben Cardin," Wright says in the ad. "Ben fights for what is right no matter what."

Mfume speaks in his own radio ad, telling listeners, "Many in our government have failed us. It's time to vote for leaders with the courage to fight, who will tell us the truth again and give us hope."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company