As we stumble into the last week of primary season, the rumbling discontent of the faithful is starting to be heard on both sides of the aisle. One of the primary rules of politics, as set forth long ago by such leaders as Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan, is "you gotta dance with them what brung ya." And both Democrats and Republicans in Maryland are starting to feel like their date’s attention has wandered toward the blonde by the bar with the half-empty martini glass.
Republicans at the state level, notably Gov. Robert Ehrlich, are steamed at their legendary single-issue ally the gun lobby. According to an article in the Maryland Gazette, four Democratic state senators the governor is hoping to knock off so he can work toward a Republican majority in Annapolis were endorsed by the National Rifle Association over Republican challengers. Dems John Astle, James Brochin, Roy Dyson, and Katherine Klausmeier all represent areas with strong Republican support, although Brochin and Klausmeier come from Baltimore County, where Ehrlich is expected to have to fight hard against Mayor Martin O’Malley to maintain the voting support he received in 2002 when he ran against Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
This has to stick in Ehrlich’s craw, although his spokesman Paul Schurick figured out how to spin it when he told the Gazette that "This is just another example of where the NRA and the governor disagree." Apparently, all news is good news for Ehrlich--if they support his crew, he gets what he wants, but if they don’t, he gets to wave it around to burnish his alleged "moderate" credentials with voters in places like Montgomery County, where being an NRA member is akin to having a bumper sticker on your car that says hug me, i’m a leper.
The NRA, contrary to popular opinion, is a bipartisan organization. Across the country Democrats toe the gun-lobby line just as much as Republicans. After all, when the Consumer Product Safety Commission was formed in 1972, it was a mainstay Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, John Dingell of Michigan, who wrote into the legislation that guns would be exempt from CPSC oversight. The gun lobby cares about one issue and one issue only, and as long as you kiss NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre’s ring, it doesn’t care what letter follows your name on a ballot. So Ehrlich will have to quietly remind himself that he once was a stalwart NRA vote in Washington and take the money it will undoubtedly give him in the fall with little complaint.
On the other side, the Democrats have a similar problem with their friends. Although things look rosy on the surface, with polls nearly always showing their statewide candidates heading for victory in November, no matter who the nominees are, trouble stirs in paradise.
It is widely believed now that one of the biggest problems Townsend faced in her 2002 campaign was that black voters in Maryland saw no reason to vote for her. She never truly courted us, she took us for granted, and when it came time to select a running mate, she went with a white man who not a year before was a Republican.
The same type of murmurs are happening today. If, on Sept. 12, both Stuart Simms and Kweisi Mfume are defeated, how will the Democratic Party handle its get-out-the-vote efforts in November? Just saying "Look, we’ve got a black man as a No. 2 on the gubernatorial ticket" won’t cut the mustard; this is 2006 and that’s so 2002.
In a Cardin-Steele matchup, the only real tactic Ben Cardin’s camp could push to undermine Michael Steele’s black support would be to relentlessly hammer home the point that, despite his charming "I’m your pal sitting on a stool" TV ads, a vote for Steele is a vote to continue George W. Bush’s failed policies on Iraq, health care, Katrina cleanup, and homeland security. Remember, Steele has amassed a gigantic campaign war chest, and the money has come not from little people writing checks but from national Republican heavy hitters. And Steele has to dance with who brung him.
But next week, Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman may be faced with the same problem the party has year in and year out: how to prove to the sizable black communities in Baltimore and in Prince George’s County, the ones that form the strong and unified base of the party, that the white powerbrokers actually care for us beyond Election Day. It’s just not enough to say, "Vote against that guy." In the end, people want someone to vote for, not against.
The NRA and the state’s black Democratic voters are in the same boat. They might get what they want. Or they both may end up voting while holding their noses or, worse still, staying home.
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