Obama Campaigns for Cardin in Md. Race

The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 27, 2006; 3:22 PM

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Race matters in Maryland's open Senate seat contest, which is why Rep. Ben Cardin, the white Democrat facing a black Republican, basked in the support of two leading African-Americans on Wednesday.

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, the lone black in the Senate and a potential 2008 presidential candidate, and Kweisi Mfume, the former NAACP chairman, praised the 10-term congressman at a morning rally.

"You gotta put this guy in the Senate," Obama told a crowd of several hundred at the University of Maryland in the home county of the Republican candidate, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who is black.

With the crowd chanting "U-ni-ty," Cardin appeared with several black officials from Maryland, including Mfume, the former congressman who lost to Cardin in a crowded primary on Sept. 12. At stake is the seat vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes.

Cardin urged Democrats to band together to defeat Steele.

"We are united as Democrats," he said. Later, he clasped hands with Obama.

The event was an early shot at securing the black support critical in a Maryland race; African-Americans comprise 29 percent of the state's population. After Mfume's defeat, some black Democratic voters said they'd switch their support to Steele, the only black candidate ever elected statewide in Maryland.

The event was Mfume's first appearance with Cardin since the primary. He got a warm reception from the crowd and said Democrats need to do a better job running candidates of color. He was unequivocal in his support for Cardin.

"He is my friend, and I'm absolutely honored to be here and tell you he's going to be a damn fine senator," Mfume said.

Along with Obama and Mfume, Maryland's black congressmen, Democrats Albert Wynn and Elijah Cummings, also backed Cardin.

Republicans aren't ceding the black vote to the Democrat in a state where the GOP trails in voter registration 2-to-1. At a GOP dinner Tuesday night in Baltimore, Gov. Robert Ehrlich told donors that the GOP slate is more diverse than the Democratic slate. He pointed to Republicans on stage running statewide, including Steele and a blind woman running for lieutenant governor, and said of the ticket, "It is diverse, just look at it."

Steele predicted victory in November. Ehrlich also is on the ballot and faces a tough re-election against Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"This November, the people of Maryland will stand with us," he said. "They'll send a little brother from Prince George's County to Washington to shake things up."

Steele's first campaign stop after winning a mid-September primary against little-known opponents was a predominantly black barbershop. He also held a campaign event last month with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

A political analyst who tracks voting by black citizens, David Bositis of the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said Cardin is smart to counter Steele's campaign events with evidence that he, too, is reaching out to black voters.

"I think he's probably taking special care that he doesn't let Steele, you know, somehow try to develop some special advantage," he said.

Bositis pointed out that in the 2002 governor's race, with Steele on the ticket, Ehrlich got about 13 percent of the black vote, meaning Democrats still have an advantage with black voters in Maryland even when the Republicans run a candidate of color.

"Will (Steele) get somewhat more than a typical senatorial candidate? Certainly," he said. But "he's not going to get enough that it's going to change the outcome of the election in any way."

At Cardin's rally, a few black voters in the mostly white crowd said they were impressed by the support of Mfume and Obama. Vanessa Arthur, a 21-year-old from Houston, said she was so taken with the Cardin rally that she planned to change her voter registration to Maryland to vote for him.

"I was moved by his speech today" and his appearance with Obama, she said.


On the Net:

Cardin campaign: http://www.bencardin.com

Steele campaign: http://www.steeleformaryland.com

© 2006 The Associated Press