These days, the Democratic party is the one that insists on the centrality of racial distinctions. So it seems fitting that racial distinctions are playing a central and potentially detrimental role in the party’s attempt to select a candidate for U.S. Senator here in Maryland. The contenders are Rep. Ben Cardin (white) and former Rep. Kweisi Mfune (black and the former head of the NAACP). The Washington Times reports that this contest is breaking down very much along racial lines. For example, Cardin has received more than 100 endorsements for his Senate bid, but just seven have come from black Democratic officials. Meanwhile, Mfume has received 29 Senate endorsements, but just two have come from white Democratic officials.
Ordinarily, this might not make much difference in a heavily Democratic state like Maryland. But the kicker is that the Republicans have rallied behind Lt. Governor Michael Steele, who is African-American. With the Democrats likely to nominate Cardin, and most black Democrats in the Mfume camp, it is far from clear that in a race against Steele, Cardin will be able to rely on the overwhelming support of African-American voters that Maryland Dems can usually take for granted. And keep in mind that blacks represent about 28 percent of the population in Maryland.
Mfume certainly is not oblvious to this prospect. He has said, “More [black] voters in Maryland are carrying the impression that the Democratic Party talks the talk, but doesn’t always walk the walk. People may find a way to cross over in the fall.” To be sure, this statement is self-serving on Mfume’s part. But I wouldn’t discount it.
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