Thursday, October 27, 2005

An All Black Senate Race?

The Senate race taking place in Maryland is significant not only in terms of the implications for a state with a Democratic edge of 2-to-1, but for its potential impact on the African American electorate. We are very encouraged by the recent surge of Black politicos placing their bids in statewide campaigns - this is becoming quite a trend since the blockbuster success of Illinois Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). And, we are even more encouraged that this may lead to Black elected officials further populating the U.S. Senate, thus resulting in greater representation in an institution dominated by a sea of graying White males. It is a sign that we have reached a certain pinnacle in our political development (albeit slow getting there) and that it's a major step toward reaching beyond an exclusively "civil rights" strategy and paradigm.

In Maryland, we find Black Republican and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (presently the highest ranking Black state elected official in the nation) taking center stage on the hopes and aspirations of a state GOP hungry for a Senate seat. It is possible Steele may win his state party's nomination if the Governor's political capital proves useful. Yet, Steele faces serious inquiries concerning a checkered professional past ...

To his left is the former Congressman and former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume, who is challenged by charges of sexual indiscretions and corruption during his previous post with the nation's oldest civil rights organization. But, the real challenge is faced by an increasingly crowded and stuffy Democratic primary pool overflowing with a cast of characters. Mfume, however, is still considered a front runner due in part to the state's large, highly professional and high income African American population. In places like Prince George's County and Baltimore, Black voters hold major clout. And Steele - of Prince George's - is betting that Black voters will opt for him out of growing disillusionment with state Dems.

Steele is taking a considerable lead over Mfume in recent state polls. That's if Steele and Mfume face off - which would be extremely encouraging in having a modern, state-wide Senate race determined ultimately by two Black men. We look forward to that.

However, much of Steele's fate will ride on the fortunes or misfortunes of Mfume. if Mfume loses his primary bid (and he's got a lot of work to do), we envision a potential Senator Michael Steele, who has made considerable inroads with African American business and political leaders since being Lt. Gov. and didn't forget where he came from. If Mfume wins the Dem primary, we envision the former NAACP head taking full advantage of his political machine's ability to draw Black votes, which is what is needed to win anything statewide in Maryland ... which will result in Senator Kweisi Mfume. In that case, Steele needs to seriously reconsider his ties to the White House; we're seeing signs of this in his campaign speeches.

Smart move.

But, not enough. In order to draw Black Maryland voters, he will also need to carefully distance himself from hardcore conservative ideologues in his state and nationwide. That will prove to be a tremendous balancing act of which Steele may actually be rather capable.

Ultimately, an all Black Senate race in Maryland could result in a major shift in the Black political landscape, as it may steer African Americans closer to leveraging and coordinating interests in both political parties rather than clinging obstinately onto one.