Race Fails to Sway Elections,
Yet Issue Persists|
By Joe Palazzolo
Friday, Nov. 10, 2006
WASHINGTON - The Rev. Heber Brown III was not among the 76 percent in
Baltimore who backed the O'Malley/Brown ticket or the 75 percent who voted for
Ben Cardin for U.S. Senate.
Brown, 26, the coordinator of Baltimore's Young Clergy for
Social Change, was
exactly what the Democrats feared -- an African-American who, rather than settle
"the lesser of two evils, a strategy that has not proved to benefit the masses
of my people," chose neither major party in Tuesday's elections.
Those fears didn't bear out. The state's two majority
jurisdictions, Baltimore and Prince George's County, supported Democrats by at
a 3-to-1 ratio in statewide contests.
But African-American leaders like Brown said that while
Republican efforts to
peel away black voters fell flat in an election driven by anti-war and anti-GOP
attitudes, the Maryland Democratic Party shouldn't misinterpret that loyalty as
approval for a statewide ticket featuring just one African-American, Lt.
African-Americans deserve a larger voice in statewide
politics, Heber Brown said,
echoing calls from former NAACP Chairman Kweisi Mfume, who lost in the U.S.
election to Cardin by about 20,000 votes, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who told Maryland Democrats Thursday that future tickets
to be more diverse.
"But whether the Democrats will really get the message is
they won," Brown said. "If they would have lost, the message would have
been much clearer."
Democratic candidates swept statewide races with at least 75
percent of the vote
in Prince George's County, which is home to one third of Maryland's
population, and with similar margins in Baltimore.
But after two African-Americans, Mfume and Stuart O. Simms, a
candidate for attorney general, lost in the primaries, Democrats worried that
voters would sit this one out.
Perceived or real, the threat of losing a chunk of the black
Democrats to campaign hard in majority African-American enclaves.
Democrats Bill Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama descended on Prince
County days before the election, urging voters not to vote along racial lines.
"You have to directly appeal to the interests of the people
who you need to
turn out. You have to energize your base voters. It's not just about race, but
the people who you think are going to vote for you," said Maryland Senate
President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who represents part of Prince George's
Some experts said the shellacking was evidence that talk
within the African-American community was overblown.
"The black voters have spoken quite clearly. They
overwhelmingly said the
Democratic Party is the party that represents their interests," said Peter
Shapiro, former chairman of the Prince George's County Council. "There's
definitely more the Democratic Party needs to do. On the other hand, it's a
diverse pool of leaders throughout the state."
Black Democrats in local races fared well.
The state's two largest jurisdictions will both have black
January. Isiah "Ike" Leggett's victory marked a first for an African-American running
executive in Montgomery County, which is majority white. Jack B. Johnson won
re-election to a second term as county executive in Prince George's County.
"They are right to be demanding that they be given a larger
they very clearly pulled the Democrats through these times, but they have
well," said Zach P. Messitte, an assistant professor of political science at St.
Mary's College of Maryland. "I'm not so sure this idea of mandating a black
candidate into a statewide election is such a good idea. All that said, this is
most important block, and attention must be paid."
Simms, who was one of three black Democrats running statewide
before losing his
primary bid for attorney general, said that both parties marketed race, but that
"in the end, I think the largest trump factor was the substance. The elections
reaffirmed traditional Democratic values."
Widespread anti-Republican sentiment didn't hurt either, and
attempts at muting their party affiliation backfired, Simms said.
Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who unsuccessfully sought re-election, and
Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who lost in a bid for the U.S. Senate seat, "insulted the people of
said, with their "Ehrlich-Steele Democrats" voter guides. The guides were
distributed by homeless men bused down from Philadelphia and erroneously implied
endorsements from some Prince George's County black leaders.
"The entire issue of poll challengers was an insult," Simms
"And that did nothing but stoke fires for the need for turnout."
While race didn't bear heavily on the vote, Simms said the
Democratic Party was
the better for having to confront it this election season. "Central to any resolution is to have a continuing dialogue,"
That dialogue continued Thursday, when Dean, the DNC
chairman, scolded Maryland
Democrats during a Washington breakfast for not promoting more black candidates.
"I just think we have got to do a better job in Maryland four
years from now
about diversity on the ticket," Dean said, according to The Baltimore Sun.
In the future, the ticket must be more representative
to avoid "another
Michael Steele problem," he said.
For Sen.-elect Cardin, a white, 10-term
"problem" demanded a $6 million campaign for a seat in a state with a
better than 2-to-1 Democratic advantage. As the party's chief fundraiser, Dean
reason to be annoyed.
"It was always O'Malley's race to lose; it was always
Cardin's to lose. Even
if there were no Iraq, and regardless of race, they shouldn't have lost," said
Messitte. "The state's legacy is just not of electing Republicans."
That legacy is more fluid today than in the past -- as the
Party is learning, Brown said.
"I'm a born Democrat, but I don't have that same allegiance
that my parents
and uncles and aunts have," Brown said. "But younger African-Americans are
more open to exploring their political options."
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