Steele v. Cardin — hard-fought and tough to call

As this Washington Times report shows, Michael Steele and Benjamin Cardin are already out pitching for Maryland’s African-American vote. And why not? African-Americans are said to comprise about 40 percent of the state’s Democratic voters, so substantial in-roads by Steele would probably carry him to an upset victory.

The Times story quotes one influential African-American Democrat who predicts that the black vote will remain solidly Democratic, calling it “a done deal.” This attitude — that Democrats can take the black vote for granted — actually helped Republicans in 2002, when the state elected its first Republican governor in decades and elected Steele to be Lt. Governor. But don’t believe for a minute that the state Dems really think they’ve got a “done deal” with African-American voters this time.

It’s possible that this race will be difficult to poll reliably. I used to hear that polls in campaigns involving black candidates had to be discounted for the likelihood that some white voters are reluctant to admit they will vote against a black. I have no idea whether this was (or is) true. But the Steele campaign presents not only that possibility, but also the prospect that some black voters may not want to admit that they are voting against a black, while others may not want to say they are voting against a Democrat.

But the most likely problem for pollsters, I believe, is none of the above. I think the problem may turn out to be black “likely” voters who say they will vote for Cardin, but then just stay home. I hope so, anyway.

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