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"An Election Not a Selection...!" Indeed!

November 29, 2005

by Jack Lynch

Kweisi Mfume, trailing in the Congressional race, said:

‘‘This cannot be a coronation,” he said. ‘‘This cannot be about the good ol’ boys deciding who goes to Washington. This is an election, not a selection.”

He further says, “The political bosses didn’t want another voice in this campaign. They thought that they could hand pick a nominee without that person working for it, but our campaign will not be denied — and our voice is strong.”

What Mfume appears to ignore, by seemingly suggesting that only he and the likewise Democratic Mr. Cardin are in the race, is the black Republican candidacy of Mr. Steele. 

Perhaps Mfume realizes that he is the Oreo with the chocolate center.  And, can it be a bad thing to be the truer candidate of African-American experience, or is it his story of a rise to renown and leadership no longer fulfills the larger territory of black American experience?  Has a growing middle class black electorate abandoned that storyline, as it abandoned central cities?  Or is he suggesting a racial bias in high Democratic circles?

One problem with this single-minded view, is that reluctant voters may find the black candidate with more moderate and conservative views, and a less shadowed past, as the better selection.  And Mr. Steele has a speaking presence that will likely excite many suburban, and more conservative African-Americans.

It’s not outside forces that will hold Mfume down, but the perception of his person.  In that sense, an election is indeed a selection.

Of course, the Steele 'Oreo' cookies episode is a strange horse, it may actually be untrue, or may be exactly what happened and what was implied, black on the outside and white on the inside, but it certainly smacks of political haymaking, regardless of Steele’s moderate comments on it lately.  It’s almost too perfect a ploy to be true.

Steele says, “Dr. King reminds us... there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, popular, or political; but because it is right.”

That probably sums up his reasoning in opposing abortion rights and the death penalty, views far out of touch with much of Maryland.  But are they category killers?  Tim Kaine, a devout Catholic, just won Virginia’s gubernatorial race, while opposing the death penalty, although vowing to uphold it as law. 

Yet Virginia is a very different state, and that election had dark ad overtones from the Republican side, and the winner was Democratic, and the traffic and planning issues of Northern Virginia were part of the mix, with outer beltway folks not buying into the tax and spend and pave mentality of the Kilgores any longer.

Steele’s Archille’s heel may be his favored son status, his unearned position, having never been solely elected to office; and while having a story of rising to prominence from humble beginnings, its not quite the drama of a Baltimore gang member, young father of five, and the hard earned higher education storyline, that Mr. Mfume projects.

Mfume further was quoted as saying that Congress needs to address ‘‘access and affordability” of health care and promote and enhance public education. Poverty continues to go ‘‘unnoticed and unchecked” by the government, a trend that he says he would reverse if elected.  

On national defense, Mfume would argue for a strong homeland security strategy, but against what he called ‘‘this nonsensical war in Iraq.  We continue to lose the lives of our brave men and women for a war with no end.”

Mfume did much to restore the NAACP from scandals.  But is his rhetoric of the quality and tenor of a Frederick Douglass or a King, appealing to a broad coalition of liberal forces.  That is very uncertain.  It sounds a bit more defensive, rather than expansive and uplifting.

Out of this swirl of appeal to black voter interests, can Ben Cardin command the visibility and respect and faithful black electorate, as he has in Northwest Baltimore?  Can he pull out the charisma to combat the sound bites and appeal of two well gunned black contenders?  Or will they simply shoot one another down?  Mr. Cardin certainly has the right stands, and a reasoned approach, he is effective and strong, and will undoubtedly protect liberal interests.

While both Steele (27%) and Mfume (35%) have high public  unfavorability ratings in recent polls, Mr. Cardin has the most to gain overall in not being as well known and defined.  It is doubtful that a career politician of his caliber will miss any of that opportunity to define his image appropriately during this wider race.  It is still early, and the pertinent numbers are yet far from being reported, since the wider state does not know Cardin as Baltimore does.

But what do any of these candidates have to say to Cumberland, Maryland?  Can they relate Eastern and Central Maryland prosperity and business and economic success to impoverished appalachia?  Can they describe a vision for employment out West beyond slots and racetracks and recreational lakes?  Can they bridge that cultural divide?

It would only take the movement of one moderate government agency out to that environs, given modern technology - no great feat, and given security concerns - another plus, and the economics trump all else.  But that kind of talk flows every electoral cycle, and the impacts do not.  Will they trust any of these contenders?  Will they really notice or care?

If Cardin could conceivably bring Western Maryland a sound economic vision, he can pull in a largely Republican area, and then the rest of the ballgame will play out in the DC suburbs, where a multiculturalism that rises well beyond just black interests can favor his urban-Jewish roots. 

It will be interesting, because it will be a truer picture of the state socially then we’ve seen in recent political battles, many having been fought primarily over party loyalty.  My money is on Cardin for Senate, the trusted, tried, and moderate voice.