Two years ago, when then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend chose a Republican military leader as running mate in her bid for governor, some Democrats saw it as a shrewd move to draw in Maryland's moderate voters.
African American leaders, though, were shaking their heads -- disappointed that Townsend had passed over a qualified black candidate for the ticket that seemed a sure winner.
By November, when Townsend had lost in the overwhelmingly Democratic state, many politicians laid the blame squarely on her choice of retired Adm. Charles Larsen and the sour feelings it left among a core constituency.
So it was that African American politicians delighted last week as Democratic presidential hopeful John F. Kerry didn't end up picking another Republican military hero, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and instead chose a Southern Democrat with broad appeal in their community.
Black leaders in Maryland and nationally described North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as a politician in the mold of former president Bill Clinton, who drew strong support from their community and energized voters. Like Clinton, Edwards comes from a working-class background and knows how to campaign in black churches and neighborhoods.
"I am fully in the support of John Edwards," Al Sharpton, an erstwhile competitor in the presidential race, told reporters a day after Kerry announced his running mate. "We must fully ask ourselves: 'Where are we? What is at stake?' We find ourselves opposing people who are radically and passionately committed to turning the clock back!"
Some politicians cite Edwards's proven record in drawing votes. His support from the black community was evident in his 1998 Senate victory, when he carried 90 percent of North Carolina's African American voters.
Even so, poll results show that Kerry held his own -- or bested Edwards -- with black voters in this year's primaries. In Virginia, for instance, Kerry won 61 percent of the black vote as he took the state with 52 percent of the total vote, according to a study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based think tank. Likewise, in Georgia, Kerry received 61 percent of the black vote as he topped Edwards, 47 percent to 42 percent, statewide.
It was Edwards's personality more than his stand on the issues that prompted Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) to endorse the first-term senator early in the Democratic primary process, while most Maryland lawmakers were backing Kerry or former Vermont governor Howard Dean.
"He is a genuine person," Wynn said of Edwards. "It is not a question of resume; it is what kind of person you are. He has a strong sense of values for the working-class people."