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Courting the NAACP

The Maryland U.S. Senate campaign could boil down to the voting preferences of Maryland's the state's large African American population, especially with two prominent black candidates in the running.

But only one of the leading Senate candidates took the opportunity last week to reach out to Maryland's delegation to the NAACP national conference in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) spoke briefly to the group Monday, his aides said, to convey his support for the Voting Rights Act.

Democrat Kweisi Mfume, who once served as NAACP president, and Republican Michael S. Steele have expressed support for the Voting Rights Act and the NAACP in the past but said they had not been invited to speak at this year's conference, which ran from July.15 to 20 Thursday and had the theme "Valuing Our Votes, Voting Our Values."

Mfume said he had hoped to swing by the Washington Convention Center to see old friends but had campaign events elsewhere and did not want to do anything to upstage his successor, Bruce S. Gordon.

Mfume left the civil rights group two years ago. It remains unclear whether his departure had anything to do with allegations by a female employee that he had promoted colleagues with whom he had romantic relationships, a charge Mfume denied.

William Bowman, president of the NAACP's St. Mary's County NAACP chapter, said he considered it a mistake for any candidate to have passed up the event.

"There's a lot of votes here," Bowman said, strolling the convention floor. "It would have been easy for them to come and speak. All you really have to do is show up."

Matt Mosk

By Phyllis Jordan  |  July 23, 2006; 10:11 AM ET
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