Courtesy of Center Maryland – When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964, he knew he was doing the right thing. But he also figured he was inexorably changing the politics of the American South, and that the Democratic Party, once so dominant throughout the region, would suffer the consequences.
He was right.
In the same way, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) felt he was doing the right thing when he signed the DREAM Act into law last year and same-sex marriage just last week — and he was.
But has O’Malley — or any other state Democratic leader — given much thought to what those two new laws, and the upcoming referendum fights over them, are going to do for the party and its most reliable constituency, African-American voters? Could we be witnessing the beginning of the end of what has been, for Maryland Democrats, a beautiful relationship? Are Maryland Republicans in any way equipped to exploit whatever fissures may exist between Democrats and their loyal supporters?
There have been murmurs of marital difficulties between the Democrats and African-American voters for quite a while now. A dozen years ago, Ike Leggett was perhaps the first official to openly warn that Democrats risked losing black voters if party leaders took them for granted and didn’t do more to promote black candidates for higher office.
That warning seemed prophetic when in 2002, the Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, tapped a white Republican to be her running mate, and she became the first Democratic candidate for governor to lose in 36 years. To add insult to injury, the Republicans won with a black candidate for lieutenant governor.
A decade later, not much has changed.
Black and Latino candidates for attorney general were overrun by Doug Gansler in the 2006 Democratic primary. Kweisi Mfume lost the Senate primary that year to Ben Cardin. O’Malley tapped Anthony Brown to be his running mate, but Brown only has the distinction of being the first black Democrat to be elected lieutenant governor.
It is entirely conceivable that had Mfume bothered to raise money six years ago, he’d be sitting in the Senate today, instead of Cardin. The way in which Mfume smoked Cardin in Baltimore city and Prince George’s County was eye-opening. While losing statewide by just 3.2 points, Mfume won the city — where Cardin had been a popular figure for 40 years — by more than 2-1. He won Prince George’s by almost 5-1, an astonishing ratio.
I caught up with Cardin last week and asked him about his Democratic primary challenge from Prince George’s state Sen. Anthony Muse. I prefaced my question by noting that no one thinks Muse can win except possibly for Muse himself. But Cardin cut me off, noting that some other people feel he can win, too.