By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
Prince George's County Democrats decried an election-eve mailer from the campaigns of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Michael S. Steele that they say is designed to mislead voters by suggesting that three African American leaders support the Republicans in today's election.
The green-and-red mailer, declaring itself an "official voter guide," arrived yesterday in Prince George's mailboxes, sporting pictures of County Executive Jack B. Johnson, his predecessor, Wayne K. Curry, and former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume.
Above the three pictures the flier reads, "Ehrlich-Steele Democrats," and underneath it announces: "These are OUR Choices."
Johnson said the mailer's overall look suggests that he, Curry and Mfume -- all Democrats -- are backing Ehrlich and Steele, a U.S. Senate candidate. None of them has endorsed the governor, and only Curry has declared his support for Steele.
"It's untruthful. I'm offended by it, and I'm angry about it," Johnson said at a hastily called news conference yesterday. "I'm convinced our citizens are smart. But this election is so important. We don't want to take any chances that they may be misled."
Mfume, who said he had not seen the flier, called it a "real malicious attempt to mislead voters in the 11th hour." Curry said he had not seen the mailer and did not comment.
The governor's spokeswoman, Shareese DeLeaver, said the flier was intended to convey Ehrlich's support for Johnson, not the other way around. "Given the county executive's tight race in the primary, it's unfortunate that he does not appreciate the campaign's expression of support for his reelection bid," she said.
She declined to comment on why Johnson would need such support since he is running unopposed. She also declined to comment, when asked, why Mfume and Curry, who are not standing for election, appear on the flier and why it does not endorse GOP candidates for attorney general and comptroller.
Steele spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said the criticism of the flier was a distraction. "It's not surprising that Democratic Party bosses are trying anything to distract from the fact that countless Democrats are supporting Michael Steele," she said.
Sellers said the campaign knew nothing about a mailer that arrived yesterday urging support for Steele and declaring that Democratic Senate candidate "Ben Cardin Promises to Attack Jesus Christ, Pastors, Churches and Christians and to Take Away Blacks' Freedom If He Is Elected."
The piece criticizing Cardin, who is Jewish, was produced and distributed by Emma Jean Thompson, a Bowie woman who attended a news conference yesterday endorsing Steele.
Donna Edwards, a Prince George's activist who narrowly lost to Rep. Albert R. Wynn in the Democratic primary, got the Republican mailing. "I guess the Republicans think the only way they can win is to trick people," she said.
In the past few days, roadside signs have cropped up in Prince George's declaring, "We R Not Slaves to the Democrats."
The voters guides and signs underscore the widely held belief that the county will play a pivotal role in the outcome of both campaigns, in part because of an aggressive push by Republicans to peel off some traditional Democratic voters.
"I understand the sentiment or language being used" in the signs, said Eugene Grant, the mayor of Seat Pleasant and a Steele supporter. "When you provide a service to someone and get nothing in return, that is tantamount to slavery."
Johnson rejected that reasoning, saying: "For someone to tie our exercise of our democratic rights to slavery is really an abomination. It is as bad as it comes."
Staff writers Rosalind S. Helderman and Ovetta Wiggins and researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.