The Maryland Senate race this year could be pivotal in determining which party controls the next Senate. Even if it isn’t, the race is fascinating due mostly to the presence of Michael Steele, the state’s African-American Republican Lt. Governor. I’ve been writing about the contest intermittently and, in particular, the extra twist provided by the fact that the Democrats also have a high profile African-American contender, Kweisi Mfume, a former Congressman and former head of the NAACP. Mfume trails a white Democrat, Rep. Benjamim Cardin, in the race for his party’s nomination. As I have noted, this creates the realistic prospect that Steele will make major in-roads with Maryland’s African-American voters, on whom the Democrats traditionally rely.
That prospect became more realistic today when the Washington Times published an account of its interview with Mfume. In that interview, Mfume told the Times that the Democrats risk losing the senatorial election because “old line party bosses” are undermining his campaign and alienating black voters. Mfume declined to say whether he would endorse Rep. Cardin if Cardin is the Democratic nominee, and he praised Steele as a friend with whom he agrees on certain issues, including “family values.”
The Democrats have long insisted on the centrality of racial distinctions and pandered to those who believe in a racial spoils system. Thus, it is delicious to hear Mfume play the race card in this context, suggesting (as I read what he told the Times) that he is entitled to a certain level of support from the party because of his race (coupled of course with his stature).
I don’t know whether Mfume will decline to support Cardin when the time comes or whether he really sees an meaningful affinity on the issues with Steele (whom I expect to run more as a moderate than a conservative). I do believe that African-Americans as a group are beginning to perceive some affinity with conservative Republicans and, to the extent that conservative Republicans take a harder line position on illegal immigration than liberal Democrats, that affinity should increase.