Thursday, October 13, 2005

Changing Political Demographics in Maryland

The Washington Post is reporting today on the imminent candidacy of Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele (R) for the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Paul Sarbanes. Steele, a Republican, is going to "test one of the most deeply rooted certainties in Maryland politics: that no matter the contest, the vast majority of African American voters will cast their ballots for the Democrat."

Steele, the first African American elected to a state wide post in Maryland's history, is also in the vanguard of the Republican effort to bridge the racial gap in American voting. Since the 1950's African Americans have voted overwhelmingly Democratic. However, such a voting pattern defies logic and history.

First, the Jim Crow laws of the South, challenged during the Civil Rights era, were promulgated and continued under Democratic administrations in those states. In fact, it was Republicans who championed the Civil Rights legislation in Congress and until Lyndon Johnson supported the measure as President, Southern Democrats were able to maintain a filibuster to block passage of the legislation. These facts are overlooked by African American leaders on a regular basis, but the history is undeniable.

Second, many African Americans particularly those who are quite religious, are very conservative in their social outlook. Most oppose gay marriage, many oppose abortion, and other social issues in the African American community break to the GOP. The Democratic party has used welfare politics and affirmative action to sway the black vote.


Many Democrats, including African Americans, are quick to dismiss the threat of mass defections among black voters, and they reject the idea that a candidate's race will blind voters to significant policy differences. "What people vote on are the things that mean the most to them, like health care, fair wages and education, and those are the strongest issues for Democratic candidates," said Terry Lierman, state party chairman.

Here's the funny thing, Democrats like party Chairman Lierman think that they own these issues, but the GOP in Maryland has been making some significan in-roads, particularly on education, where Steele Chaired the Governors Commission on Quality Education in Maryland, which issued this report last month.

Steele is focusing much of his efforts among the black community by visiting black churches across the state, in particular in his home county of Prince George's. Plus, Steele has used his visible, if vaguely defined office to keep up the outreach efforts on behalf of Ehrlich and the GOP.

Entries in Steele's calendar suggest that he has turned an office with no job description into a headquarters for the administration's minority outreach effort. In recent months, Steele has met often with black political, religious and business leaders. He has made regular visits to, and delivered grants to, black churches and universities.

In an interview, Steele said he believes that those efforts have helped change black voters' perceptions of Republicans. Specifically, he cited efforts to increase funding to historically black colleges and to revamp the state's minority business enterprise program -- which helps minority- and women-owned firms compete for state contracts. "We didn't just talk about these reforms; we did it," he said.

With white Democrat Ben Cardin opening a big lead in money for hte Democratic nomination, the black voters, which comprise nearly 30 percent of the population in Maryland are going to face a tough choice. Steele and the Erhlich Administration have delivered on many promises to the black community while Democrats struggle with internecine politics over race.

One thing is for sure, this may be the election that turns the tide for the GOP among the black community, further cemeting the Democrats as the minority party in America.

Linked to Cao's Blog.

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