Clinton -- Former congressman and NAACP head Kweisi Mfume's U.S. Senate campaign got a major boost yesterday with endorsements from Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and several members of the county's legislative delegation.
Johnson praised Mfume's commitment to education, health care, equality, fairness and opportunity and marveled with the mostly African-American crowd at a Prince George's fundraiser at the possibility that Maryland could elect its first black senator.
"He believes most of all that all of us are sisters and brothers, no matter where we come from, no matter what color skin we have," Johnson said. "He believes America can become greater and, more important, he can help America become greater."
Mfume's chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, has announced dozens of endorsements from politicians around the state in recent months, but these are the first that the former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has announced.
However, they could be important ones. Prince George's has the largest and fastest-growing population of registered Democrats in the state. In the 2002 Democratic primary, Prince George's provided about 19 percent of the statewide vote, and since then, more than 50,000 people have registered as Democrats there.
State Sens. Nathaniel Exum and Gloria G. Lawlah and Dels. Carolyn J.B. Howard, Obie Patterson, Dereck E. Davis, Darryl A. Kelley, Veronica L. Turner, Rosetta C. Parker and Marvin E. Holmes Jr., all Prince George's Democrats and African-Americans, joined Johnson in endorsing Mfume.
The Sun poll, released this week, found Cardin and Mfume in a virtual dead heat, with more than a third of voters undecided in the Democratic Senate primary. Other candidates in the race, forensic psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren, American University professor Allan Lichtman and developer Joshua Rales, trailed far behind. A. Robert Kaufman also is in the race but was not part of the poll.
Although Prince George's County is overwhelmingly Democratic, the Republican frontrunner in the race, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Prince George's native, appears unlikely to concede the jurisdiction in the general election.
"What too often has occurred in the state of Maryland is political leadership deciding how voting blocs will vote, and there is a historic notion that political leadership can ensure that, in some cases, African-American voters will vote Democratic," said Steele campaign spokesman Leonardo Alcivar.
"That is an outdated and irrelevant view of the political landscape in Maryland," Alcivar said, "and the lieutenant governor, as he continues a statewide dialogue, is going to remind these leaders that party bosses don't decide elections. People decide elections."
Cardin campaign spokesman Oren Shur said that regardless of Johnson's endorsement, the congressman expects he, Mfume and the county executive will join forces to make sure the people of Prince George's County decide this election in the Democrats' favor.
"Ben Cardin is good friends with both Jack Johnson and Kweisi Mfume, so no matter what happens in the primary, we believe that all three will work together to defeat Michael Steele and the Bush agenda," Shur said.