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Beyond the Primary

Following Tuesday's competitive statewide primaries, the most immediate challenge facing Maryland Democrats will be uniting the party, including its vanquished hopefuls, to focus on the Republican ticket in November.

The task could be made more difficult this year, party insiders say, if neither of the two most prominent African American candidates on the ballot, Senate hopeful Kweisi Mfume and attorney general candidate Stuart O. Simms, prevails. That would create a Democratic ticket in November headed by white candidates, with the exception of lieutenant governor hopeful and Prince George's Del. Anthony G. Brown.

In an interview last week, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, the party's presumptive gubernatorial nominee, said he and Brown started preparing for their role as unifiers soon after Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan exited the race in June.

"Anthony and I have tried to be that unifying force in the party at the top of the ticket," he said, suggesting that was one reason they had "been careful to stay out of other contested primaries."

O'Malley said that "it's always best to have a ticket that reflects the diversity of our state" and that Brown's role should not be overlooked. O'Malley named Brown, an African American, as his running mate in December.

"By addressing diversity in the lieutenant governor slot, we have alleviated at least some of the anger and hurt many people in our party felt four years ago," O'Malley said, referring to then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's choice of a white Republican as her running mate in 2002.

O'Malley also cited some developments that could help unite the party after Tuesday, including the civil tone of the Senate race between Mfume and his chief rival, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin.

"While it has been hotly contested, it has not been contested in a hotheaded and disrespectful way, which is a tremendous help to whomever wins the race," O'Malley said.

Moreover, he said, in the attorney general's race, Simms has prominent supporters who are white, and Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler has prominent supporters who are black. "I have not seen that race break down on a strictly racial basis," O'Malley said.

John Wagner

By Phyllis Jordan  |  September 10, 2006; 10:09 AM ET
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