Former NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume said yesterday that "political pundits and the so-called experts" had sought to bolster the candidacy of another Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate next year and diminish his prospects.

There appears to be "a huge effort to sort of guide the process" in favor of Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Mfume said, according to an Associated Press account of remarks he made during a meeting of the National Association of Minority Media Executives in Chicago.

The pundits and operatives, Mfume said, have tried to "steer the perception that [Cardin] can't lose and then create the perception that I can't win."

Mfume confirmed the tenor of his comments in an interview last night, but he said some had misinterpreted his remarks to be directed at Democratic Party leaders.

"I don't know to what extent any top elected officials in our party had anything to do with it," said Mfume, a former congressman.

He said some political operatives had worked against him, but he said that Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman had treated him fairly.

Mfume and Cardin, both of Baltimore, are seeking the Democratic nomination in the race to succeed the retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.). Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat, ended weeks of speculation Monday by announcing that he would not join the race.

Lierman said in an interview last night that there was no effort by the party to help one candidate more than another.

"Maryland is blessed with two terrific candidates to represent us in the United States Senate," Lierman said. "The Maryland Democratic Party, I can assure you, is [doing] and will continue to do everything possible to make sure whichever person wins the nomination will be successful in November 2006." Lierman said that if elected, Mfume "would be a terrific U.S. senator that we can all be proud of."

Cardin, who entered the race more than a month after Mfume, has had much more success raising money, and he has racked up many more endorsements, including that of House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat from Southern Maryland. Cardin said he raised more than $1 million in his first nine weeks as a candidate; Mfume said he had collected about $150,000 since entering the race.

Mfume's candidacy also has been complicated by allegations of favoritism during his tenure at the NAACP.

Isiah Leggett, a former Maryland Democratic Party chairman, said he had seen no concerted effort from the party to diminish Mfume's candidacy.

Mfume also warned during a round-table discussion in Chicago that Democrats run the risk of losing black support in the general election. The Republican Party appears likely to nominate Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who is black, for the Senate seat.

"It is important that the party find a way to show to all voters that it embraces diversity," Mfume said in the interview. "It doesn't have to be me. It just has to be someone competent, capable, qualified and prepared. . . . The last thing I want to do is sound self-serving."

Kweisi Mfume, shown in May, sees an effort to "guide the process."