A nightmare for progressives leading up to the Nov. 7 elections was that Maryland voters would go against the grain and elect Republican Michael Steele, an African American, to the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Paul Sarbanes.
That outcome would have preserved Republican control of the Senate by one seat, with Black voters the improbable key to Republican victory.
Steele, the incumbent lieutenant governor, ran a slick, lavishly funded campaign straight out of the Karl Rove playbook. One TV ad showed Steele holding a puppy, a “gentler, kinder” politician. He concealed his close ties to George W. Bush and the Republican right. He posted big lawn signs reading “Michael Steele Democrat.”
The Democratic candidate, Ben Cardin, a methodical lawmaker, hammered at the basic issues and characterized Steele as an unwavering Bush Republican. Cardin’s voting record in the House of Representatives was solidly pro-labor. He played a big role in fighting Bush’s drive to privatize Social Security and voted against the resolution authorizing Bush to invade Iraq.
While Democrats in Maryland enjoy a two-to-one majority, the party was in a shambles after Republican Robert Ehrlich was elected governor in 2002. Steele’s strategy was to cut deeply into the Black vote while winning big in the suburban and rural parts of the state. Several prominent African Americans endorsed Steele, such as former Judge Billy Murphy whose family publishes the Baltimore Afro-American. The Republicans accused the Democrats of “taking Black voters for granted.”
The charge resonated because the Democrats’ statewide ticket had only one African American, Anthony Brown, running for lieutenant governor. Brown, an Iraq war veteran, is a member of the General Assembly representing Prince George’s County.
Members of my Baltimore club, the Northeast Community Club, Communist Party USA, were not bystanders. Every Saturday we joined the AFL-CIO’s Working America campaign going door to door to get out the vote. Mostly, we visited union households in Baltimore County. Sundays we distributed the People’s Weekly World and the party’s brochure, “A Call to Action: Defend Democracy, Change Congress.” We distributed well over 4,000 copies of that brochure at the two farmers’markets in downtown Baltimore. They were very well received.
How did all this play out on Election Day? Both Steele and Ehrlich were trounced. And who provided the Democrats’ margin of victory? African American voters!
Voters in Prince George’s County, 63 percent African American, voted 154,798 for Cardin and 49,484 for Steele, a better than three-to-one margin for the Democrat. Voters in the city of Baltimore, 64 percent Black, voted 112,805 for Cardin, 35,185 for Steele, also more than three-to-one. Voters in majority white Montgomery County voted 205,264 for Cardin, 96,616 for Steele, a more than two-to-one margin for Cardin. Voters in Baltimore County voted 145,262 for Cardin, 131,291 for Steele. Cardin also narrowly carried Howard County. Steele won a majority in every other county.
It was the “fortresses” of multiracial working-class power — Prince George’s County, Baltimore City and Montgomery County — that crushed Steele and Ehrlich.
All that doorbell ringing in Baltimore County paid off. The Democrats carried this mostly white, working-class suburban county by a 14,000-vote margin. It is now the biggest “swing” county in the state.
The battle in the suburbs and exurbs reflected the Democrats’ “50-state strategy” of challenging the Republican right everywhere including all those so-called “red states.” Rep. Harold Ford’s race for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee was a dramatic example of that approach. With backing of the Memphis local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Ford nearly became the first Black U.S. senator from the South since Reconstruction. The strategy produced deep, new splits in the Republican base and proved that these voters can be won to the side of multiracial unity.
As for the African American vote, it was awesome. Black voters cast their ballots 89 percent against the Republicans. They saw right through the fakery of the Republicans putting up African American candidates like Steele and gubernatorial candidates Lynn Swann in Pennsylvania and Kenneth Blackwell in Ohio. Black voters evidently viewed this GOP scam as an insult to their intelligence. They hit back hard when they went into the voting booths.
Overwhelmingly working class, African Americans voted their class allegiance, not their race. When we ponder the message voters sent Nov. 7, one is a clear rejection of the Republican right’s use of new forms of racism, including the use of African American candidates to hide a white supremacist agenda. On this issue too, voters clearly are looking for change.
Tim Wheeler (greenerpastures21212 @ yahoo.com), a longtime Baltimore resident, is national political correspondent for the People’s Weekly World.