A blur of events, a sense of relief

The Baltimore Sun

It's hard to get them to admit it, but there is a palpable sense of relief on their faces, a sense that the end is in sight. Almost.

These are the last handshakes. The last urgent messages reminding people to vote. The last requisite conversations with everyone from engaged voters to homeless people to those who are just angry.

Tomorrow Baltimore voters go to the polls to pick the city's new leaders in an off-year election in which many voters are still undecided or even unaware of their choices.

Seven Democrats are running for mayor, four for City Council president, and dozens to represent the council's 14 districts. In Baltimore, with its heavily Democratic voter registration, winning tomorrow's primary generally assures victory in the November general election.

Yesterday capped the final weekend of campaigning, a long day that for most of the major candidates began with early-morning appearances at the downtown farmers' market and various church services, followed by a blur of events - picnics and crab feasts, festivals and canvassing.

Some got creative. City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a candidate for mayor, went door-knocking at local bars in Northeast Baltimore, hoping to capture football fans watching the season's opening games.

"I've got butterflies in my stomach," admitted Mitchell early in the day.

"I'm starting to sleep less," he added, as he made his way around the farmers' market, a reunion of sorts for a man who used to sell hand-squeezed orange juice there.

"I'm not feeling nervous, I think it's a sense of anticipation. ... You've done everything you can. Now it's up to the voters."

Mitchell and his trail of volunteers crossed paths in the market with at least two other candidates: City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake and her main challenger, Michael Sarbanes.

While Rawlings-Blake and Mitchell chose the strategy of circling the expansive parking lot-turned-market, Sarbanes stuck to the entrance, greeting those who know him and those who didn't.

"You hit more voters this way," Sarbanes insisted.

Over at Druid Hill Park later in the morning, Rawlings-Blake and Mayor Sheila Dixon sat together at an outdoors Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church service followed by a picnic, as the Rev. Frank M. Reid III was extra cautious in introducing them.

Rawlings-Blake's husband wore a T-shirt that said "Vote for my Wife."

"Let's give our member Sheila Dixon a warm welcome," said Reid, as Dixon stood up and waved and members of the church applauded. "I have to be very careful on how I do things. ... I have to say Sheila Dixon is a stewardess of Bethel AME and she is a member.

"Will all of the politicians in the audience stand up?" he added.

Only Rawlings-Blake rose. "I have a great friend in heaven by the name of Pete Rawlings," Reid said, mentioning her father, a former delegate. "I'm just so happy to see his daughter with us."

"We all know what I'm trying to say without saying it," Reid added.

Dixon has held a strong lead in the mayoral race throughout the summer campaign, according to a pair of polls conducted for The Sun.

The City Council president's race, however, appears to be much tighter, with Rawlings-Blake and Sarbanes virtually tied in both of those polls. In the most recent poll, taken by The Sun at the end of last month, Sarbanes held a slight edge.

Dixon, who is running with Rawlings-Blake, has stepped up her appearances with the council president in recent days, and the two will remain actively campaigning for one another in the final two days.

"Stephanie has been part of a great, successful team over the last seven years, and we're building on the momentum and the progress of the city," Dixon said.

Repeating her criticism of Sarbanes that has become a common refrain in recent days, Dixon said: "We don't really have the time to have someone learn the job, which will take two to three years."

Sarbanes has said that his years in state government and working in the community will enable him to quickly learn the job.

While candidates and their campaigns start stepping up get-out-the-vote tactics, many are also still trying to work on the undecided voters.

Nearly a third of voters polled last month said they were undecided in the races for mayor and City Council president - a block of voters especially critical in the close president's campaign.

Luke Clippinger, campaign manager for Rawlings-Blake, said they have identified 2,000 undecided voters and are trying to write and hand-deliver letters to them.

Keisha Carter, Sarbanes' campaign manager, said many of the groups that have endorsed Sarbanes are working on undecided voters while the campaign is focused on getting its known supporters motivated for tomorrow.

"We're talking to a lot of voters who said they'll be supporting us and going out there to remind them," she said.

Though weather forecasts raising the potential of rain and clouds has many predicting an even lower turnout than usual for off-year elections, the candidates say they have faith in the city's voters. "I do not think even a little clouds are going to deter the future of our city," said Rawlings-Blake.

The hectic schedules continue today.

Dixon and Rawlings-Blake are expected to be endorsed by the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, outside New Shiloh Baptist Church. Dixon will also take part in a sign wave with members of the AFL-CIO, a meet-and-greet at a Guilford condominium complex, and canvassing in between.

Mitchell will start the day early, greeting personnel outside of Johns Hopkins Hospital, stopping at Cross Street Market for lunch, and then hitting Edmondson Village Shopping Center and the West Cold Spring Metro station to shake hands.

Rawlings-Blake's schedule calls for her to wave to drivers in Northwest Baltimore and again later with AFL-CIO members, attend a reception at Morgan State University and meet with voters at Northwood Appold Community Academy.

Both she and Sarbanes will make appearances at Lexington Market.

Sarbanes will also be sign-waving in the morning, going on a "coffee chat tour" to various coffee shops, and then hitting a couple of community meetings, in addition to canvassing.

Yesterday at the farmers' market, Sarbanes scribbled down the phone number and address of a Park Heights woman who was mad that she stayed home from work the afternoon he was supposed come by her house. "I want you to look out my window and see what I see," said Kimberly Mims, 46, who said she's still voting for Sarbanes.

Sarbanes clasped her hand. "I'll be there," he said.

Mitchell took a peace sticker from a woman who is part of the "Women in Black" group, an international peace network.

"I'm still making up my mind here," Beverly Davis, 64, told Sarbanes.

"For many years I've felt I wish there was someone I could wholeheartedly support," she said later. "A lot of times it comes down to the lesser of two evils."

She will vote, she insisted. "The city is in need of great leadership."

sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com

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