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July 2, 2006
Maryland Primary Has Democrats Split On Race

The Washington Post reports that the Maryland race to replace the retiring Paul Sarbanes has split the Democratic Party on race. Referring to the candidates' "ethnicity", the Post's new poll shows that Kweisi Mfume and Benjamin Cardin have polarized Maryland's Democratic base:

Former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume leads U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin in what is shaping up to be a racially polarized Democratic Senate primary in Maryland, even as roughly a third of the electorate has not settled on a candidate, according to a new Washington Post poll.

For the first time in Maryland history, both major parties have the potential to nominate an African American, and the poll suggests that the hopes of all of the major candidates will depend on their ability to cross racial boundaries for support.

As they stand, the racial divisions are stark: In the primary, Mfume, who is black, gets 72 percent of his support from black voters, the poll shows. Cardin, who is white, gets 82 percent of his backing from white voters.

Black Democrats have already shown some interest in Michael Steele, a well-known figure in Maryland politics. The polling shows that Steele could draw 25% of their vote in November if Cardin wins. Given the party's early implicit endorsement of Cardin, he may draw more than that from the anger some may feel at the cold shoulder Mfume received when his candidacy got ignored early in the campaign.

However, Cardin has had trouble breaking out from Mfume and trails him, according to the Post's poll. Cardin says his internal polling shows him easily leading Steele. The last Rasmussen poll taken in April does not show the haed-to-head results for the primary, but does reinforce the idea that Cardin might have it more correct than the Post. It shows Cardin leading Steele by ten points, while Mfume's lead is only within the margin of error. Contradicting what the Post reports on the impact of race on the general election, Steele actually polls higher against Mfume than he does against Cardin.

Mfume may feel pretty sanguine about his recent gains against Cardin, but he shouldn't take it too seriously. Mfume has national recognition and will not need to use a campaign to introduce himself to voters. The Post reports that two-thirds of Maryland Democrats have too little information to form an opinion of Cardin. His problem is taking the right tone for his campaign without alienating black voters. Beating Mfume will result in a Pyrrhic victory if it means that he antagonizes Mfume supporters into staying home in November or -- even worse -- outright support of Steele.

Cardin at least has the advantage in finances. He has raised almost $4 million to Mfume's $520,000, and therefore can flood the zone with his advertising. That will allow Cardin to define himself before either Mfume or Steele can do it for him. Steele has $2.4 million, though, and no primary challenge, and therefore can play havoc in the Democratic primary to whatever extent he wants. The money could also be turned into a disadvantage by a clever Mfume campaign, illustrating the power of the Demoratic machine and their arrogance in locking Mfume out of the fundraising -- turning the former NAACP into an outsider and a bit of a martyr.

This race could get ugly fast. If the two campaigns start going negative, the candidates could easily fracture the base along racial lines. That would have implications for Democrats across all statewide offices, not just the Senate campaign this year. Steele would find himself positioned as the ultimate beneficiary in November, but the split could allow the GOP to make substantial gains in Maryland for several election cycles.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 2, 2006 11:23 AM

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» Cardin vs. Mfume Kryptonite To al-Donka from Hard Starboard
The heretofore hypothetical question of how long the racial divisions within the Democrat Party could be concealed from public view has now been answered - and they threaten to cost the Dems a senate seat that, on the face of it, should not be in ser... [Read More]

Tracked on July 3, 2006 2:10 PM


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