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Maryland: Steele and O'Malley Are Hits at Annual Crab Fest

CRISFIELD, Md., July 19 -- Politicians descended on a hot slab of pavement in this small Eastern Shore town today to woo voters who, to this reporter's eye, seemed at least as interested in the crabs, clams, corn and the occasional game of beer pong as they did in the candidates.

The J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake is an annual tradition in Maryland politics (yesterday was its 30th incarnation), but this year represented a major break from the sedate (and frankly sleepy) nature of the state's politics.

Two races are already drawing national attention. Gov. Bob Ehrlich's (R) bid for a second term is being challenged by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) -- a rising star in the Democratic Party. The other race is the result of Sen. Paul Sarbanes's (D) decision to retire after five terms, creating the first open Senate seat in Maryland in 20 years. Democrats face a multi-candidate primary in September, while Republicans have rallied around Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, an African American who, they believe, has the potential to win a significant number of black votes in the fall.

Michael Steele
Lt. Governor Michael Steele greets supporters as he arrives at the J. Millard Tawes 30th Annual Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield on Wednesday. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

If the reception Steele received is any indication, Democrats should be a little worried. Steele was greeted warmly by a group of black men and women gathered under a tent sponsored by the University of Maryland -- Eastern Shore. Dressed in a short-sleeve shirt and black pants, Steele received hugs and words of encouragement from the group -- many of whom sported O'Malley campaign stickers.

Steele's hands-on campaign style (almost every person he met got a warm handshake and more often than not the candidate's arm around his or her shoulder) fit well in the close quarters of the crab fest. Asked by one man how the campaign was going Steele responded: "So far, so good. I'm still smiling."

While a warm reception at a single event does not guarantee that Steele will be able to convince black voters to vote for him in droves this November, he says that his personal relationships with Maryland voters will insulate him from Democratic attacks. "They are trying to paint Michael Steele as a Republican," he said. "Everybody knows that." He cast the election as an "important one for the state," giving voters the choice between the "old way" of doing things (i.e. the Democratic leaders who have dominated politics in the state for decades) and a new way embodied by Steele and his current boss, Gov. Ehrlich.

Speaking of Democrats, the two candidates considered most likely to challenge Steele in the fall did not make it to the crab fest. Rep. Ben Cardin was in Washington casting votes in the House, while former NAACP chief (and former congressman) Kweisi Mfume was meeting with the Gazette newspapers editorial board in Gaithersburg. Both men had a presence at the event in the form of T-shirt wearing volunteers, signs and other campaign paraphernalia.

Democratic Senate candidate Josh Rales, who is becoming a household in Maryland name thanks to a barrage of television ads now running across the state, attended the crab fest with a small group of aides. Rales, who remains far behind Mfume and Cardin in public opinion polls, won the award for best giveaway of the day -- a hand fan with his name on it.

Rales is still a bit unsteady as a candidate He seemed to wander from group to group but found his footing a bit better when O'Malley arrived late in the day, mixing with those gathered to meet the mayor.

"This is a Maryland event," said Rales. "It's a classic." Rales delighted in the absence of Mfume and Cardin, noting that the crab fest was a "very fertile environment" for harvesting votes.

Martin O'Malley
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley greets attendees at the J. Millard Tawes 30th Annual Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield on Wednesday (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Although he was a late to the event, O'Malley was clearly the star of the show -- he entered to chants from supporters (and counter-chants from Ehrlich backers) and was waylaid at every turn by hangers-on. O'Malley lived up to his rock-star image, somehow not sweating despite the blazing heat.

O'Malley cast himself as the underdog in the race against Ehrlich even though a recent Washington Post poll showed him leading the incumbent by double digits. "We are in a strong position in what will be an uphill battle," he said. "Bob Ehrlich has never run a campaign without a robust dirty tricks campaign."

He also avoided straying from his message of "different choices," no matter what question was thrown at him by a small group of reporters. Asked whether he was surprised Ehrlich did not attend the crab fest (he chose instead to speak to the Washington Jewish Council about Israel and Lebanon), O'Malley said that it was in keeping with the incumbent's avoidance of rural areas where "the decisions made by George Bush and Bob Ehrlich" have negatively impacted peoples' lives.

All in all, it was just the kind of the day The Fix loves -- raw politicking (but no raw fish).

Next week we'll make available some video footage The Fix shot down in Crisfield. If there are other gatherings like the Tawes crab fest or Virginia's Shad Planking in other states, make mention of it in the comment section below. I'd like to get to as many of these events as possible in the coming years.

Read Post reporter John Wagner's story on the Crisfield event: "Tawes Clam Bake Serves Tradition and Candidates."

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 20, 2006; 4:01 PM ET
Categories:  Governors , Senate  
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Next: The Friday Line: Dems Firm Up House Target List


Dito on the Neshoba County Fair in Phliadelphia, MS....Back in 1995 incumbant Gov. Kirk Fordice (R) and his challenger the Sec. of State Dick Molphus(D) were in a heated debate and Molphus made some type of comment about Fordice's wife to wich Kirk replied "Boy, if you ever utter another word about my wife or my family I will take you to the woodshed." The crowd went crazy and Fordice sailed to victory!

Posted by: Magnolia | July 25, 2006 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, the Democrats are the party of Jim Crow...the Republicans just abandoned Reconstruction in 1877. Nice try.

There is a logic to comparing embryonic stem cell research to Nazism IF you strongly believe that those embryos are life and that destroying life in the name of scientific research at the expense of other lives is morally wrong. It's a bit of a stretch in my book but there is a rationale for that comparison.

Posted by: Jim Crow Laws | July 24, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

"I would love to know ONE THING that Michael Steele has done in the name of Civil Rights in his entire career."

Why does Michael Steele or any black candidate in America have to do anything for the "civil rights" cause? Why not just do something for the State of Maryland or the USA?

For those who like to attach Jesse Helms and David Duke to the GOP, I also offer you Dwight Eisenhower - who enforced Brown v Board of Education in Little Rock; I would like to offer Richard Nixon - no friend of the NAACP to be sure, but who had some progressive anti-poverty programs and who initiated affirmative action (ironically, he also profited from the Southern Strategy); you have Teddy Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolige, all progressives in their time. And for each of these individuals, along with myriad Democratic presidents, you will have a mixed bag.

Voters of Maryland should judge Michael Steele on whatever criteria they want. As for me, a politician who stands up for charter schools, vouchers, low taxes, and greater economic opportunity would serve his state well.

Posted by: Why? | July 24, 2006 12:50 PM | Report abuse

For a guy who lied about an Oreo attack, compared stem cells to Nazism and represents the party of Jeb Crow laws, Michael Steele sure gets a lot of positive press about winning the black vote. Of course this contradicts every poll I have seen and every bit of common sense about the state of republican politics today. Unless, of course, you are Ken Melhman, Karl Rove or directly attached to their talking points.

As for the wingnut who is slandering Lincoln, you are welcome in the Steele campaign. Please have some kool-aid.

Posted by: Greg in LA | July 21, 2006 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Saw O'Malley at a rooftop fundraising event. He sang and played guitar. The speach was great. Reminded me of a young Clinton.

Does he really not sweat?

Posted by: kvandy | July 21, 2006 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Since we are talking about Lincoln - it was Lincoln's Civil War which resulted in the Supreme Court case known as Texas v. White - in that case the Supremes reasoned that because Texas never had the right to leave the union in the first place - the State of Texas became liable for the debt of confederate Texas -

By itself this means nothing - what they reasoned was, the term "more perfect union" meant teh people relinguished their inherent right to throw off a government destructive of the ends of government" restated as a result of Lincolns Civil War the SUpreme overrule the legal foundation of the Declaration of Independence and the very source of our freedom - it has been all down hill from there.

Someday people will realize Lincoln was about more than slavery - in fact slavery was an afterthought to rationalize the war - someday historians will take a constitutional look at Lincoln and tell the truth - he was a tyrant devoid of any respect for the constitution.

Lincoln supporters believe that morality justify the taking of personal property without due process - slavery was wrong and repulsive - but abolishing the legal foundation for our great country is even more repulsive and dangerous

All of you Lincoln supporters learn your history - moral relativism is going to destroy the last hope this country has for someday being great

Bobby Wightman-Cervantes

Posted by: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes | July 21, 2006 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Galivants Ferry Stump Speaking is held in May outside Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Posted by: Carolinas | July 21, 2006 10:56 AM | Report abuse

To a new reader.

I do have a pretty good grasp of history. What year was it 130 years ago? That would be 1876, right before reconstruction ended. You also might know that Lincoln had been dead for 11 years by that time. Thus my point about Republicans failing to help minorities for the last 130 years.

Except for a brief interlude from 1904-1908, the republican party has been the party of laissez-faire capitalism and big business ever since they purged the abolitionists and reformists in 1876.

Posted by: Adam Terando | July 21, 2006 10:51 AM | Report abuse

If you can come north to Mass., Sheriff Mike Ashe has his 29th annual Clambake on Aug 16. He holds it each year at Six Flags New England in Agawam. Promises to be fun and great politics. All six candidates for Governor, including the Lt. Gov., and Atty Gen., promise to be there. Thousands of politicos always attend and rumor has it this will be the best attendance yet!

Posted by: Crab Fest | July 21, 2006 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Crabby feaster and sturmgrenadier are trite.

oh please.....,
Hmmm..,and characterizing someone else and/or their comments as trite is an improvement upon the flaw you point out? Ironically, if you had chosen to use the word 'hackneyed' in your comment, it would have been slightly less trite owing to its comparatively rarer appearance in everyday conversation.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 21, 2006 1:46 AM | Report abuse

For uncensored news please go to:

McKinney votes stolen by Diebold; the electronic vote manipulation network and you

By Larry Chin

In her Georgia primary election, Cynthia McKinney has been forced into a run off election against a political unknown, a relative flea/cockroach, Hank Johnson. It has been confirmed that McKinney votes were stolen by Diebold machines that flipped her votes over to Johnson. Johnson's sole qualification is that he is not McKinney. That's enough for the powerful forces aligned against her.

It is no surprise that McKinney, an outspoken and vocal critic of the Bush administration, as well as someone despised by the corrupt leadership of the Democratic Party, is again facing the prospect of being removed by dirty tricks and criminal means. She was similarly removed in the midterm primary of 2002, when Bush Republicans, and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), pulled out all the stops to replace McKinney with pro-war/pro-Israel/Republican-in-hiding candidate Denise Majette. (With Hank Johnson, here we go again.) McKinney is one of the only members of Congress to dare attempt an official inquiry into 9/11. McKinney was recently set up and scandalized in the halls of Congress, ridiculously accused of assaulting the security guard who harassed her. Few, if any, Democrats have stood by her side.

If McKinney does not prevail, it comes at another opportune moment for the Bush administration (and the Israeli lobby), and the Democratic leadership, all hell bent on removing any resistance to a full-scale war in the Middle East and beyond; resistance to the final destruction of US democracy.

For the naïve and deeply insane who continue to dream about "taking back America in November," get this through your thick skulls: there will be no vote. There has been no "election" since 2000. There will not be one now, or possibly ever.

The American vote count is controlled by four corporations, Diebold, ESS, Sequoia, and SAIC. All four are hard-wired into the neocon/Bush power structure.

The machines control the vote. BushCo. controls the machines. Repeat this over and over.
Until that changes, there is nothing more to say. You had better do something else.

Posted by: che | July 21, 2006 12:47 AM | Report abuse

Crabby feaster and sturmgrenadier are trite.

Posted by: oh please . . . | July 20, 2006 11:15 PM | Report abuse

As for the comment above that O'Malley should be encouraged to take a young, well-spoken, charismatic, up and coming black candidate as his running mate for governor, um, read on:

Thank you for pointing this out to me. I was not aware of it. Maybe the party powers and O'Malley really are using their heads and thinking strategically. I guess this is one time where I didn't give them enough credit to the obvious, sensible thing. Thanks for the link. After reading Mr. Brown's compelling bio and seeing the wholesome picture of his family, I think that he will likely make a fine LT. gubernatorial candidate and be an asset to the O'Malley ticket. I would be interested to her him speak; I don't know whether there are Lt. governor debates or what campaign visits he has planned.

Posted by: sturmgrenadier | July 20, 2006 8:51 PM | Report abuse


Even during non election years, one of the best parties in the country is the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, MS. Middle of the delta at the end of July - hot as hell, dirty, dusty, LOTS of food and booze and, during political years, some of the most interesting political scenes and speeches since Huey Long.

DEFINITELY worth checking out.

Last week of July, first week of August.

Posted by: Look to Mississippi | July 20, 2006 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Fyi, Hotline On Call also weighs in on the feast:

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | July 20, 2006 8:30 PM | Report abuse

"crab fest" -- fest? Yikes, that sounds like a Red Lobster special. Try "feast" --

As for the comment above that O'Malley should be encouraged to take a young, well-spoken, charismatic, up and coming black candidate as his running mate for governor, um, read on:

Posted by: Crabbyfeaster | July 20, 2006 7:36 PM | Report abuse

>>>Abraham Lincoln was a Republican

So was Jessse Helms, so was David Duke, so are most or all of the southerners who still fly the Confederate flag. In fact, Mr. Mfume helped bring down the confederate flag from the SC statehouse in 2000 when he was head of the NAACP.

Where was Steele then? In fact, I would love to know ONE THING that Michael Steele has done in the name of Civil Rights in his entire career.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | July 20, 2006 7:33 PM | Report abuse

O'malley should not be underestimated, and I am thinking beyond the statehouse in Annapolis. I've met him a few times and he has that 'special something' that few pols have.

It's also worth remembering that a black candidate running for Gov. or Senator of most states (esp as a republican) is a long long shot.
I hate to say it, but it's my gut instinct.

Posted by: jay lassiter | July 20, 2006 7:21 PM | Report abuse

O'malley should not be underestimated, and I am thinking beyond the statehouse in Annapolis. I've met him a few times and he has that 'special something' that few pols have.

It's also worth remembering that a black candidate running for Gov. of most states (esp as a republican) is a long long shot.
I hate to say it, but it's my gut instinct.

Posted by: jay lassiter | July 20, 2006 7:21 PM | Report abuse

What I do not understand is why the Democratic leadership doesn't encourage O'Malley to take a young, well-spoken, charismatic, up and coming black candidate as his running mate for governor (there must be one among the ranks of the state legislature, business community, etc.). That way, they could insulate Democrats from the implied, racial criticsm that although they rely heavily on the black vote, they are not willing to embrace black candidates for statewide office and are taking the black vote for granted. I think that this would be a smart move for them and would reduce the likelihood that some black voters may become disaffected to the 'tipping point' where they vote a split ticket for governor/US Senate. From what I've seen of his appearances, Mr. Steele is a very well-spoken, warm, appealing person who can connect with voters on a personal level and even transcend/overcome any issues differences that may exist between them (as the crab bake story confirms). It would behoove the Democratic leadership to be proactive in pre-empting the defection of the black electorate in November; Steele could easily eke out a narrow victory despite what liberal blogs and pundits proclaim.

Posted by: sturmgrenadier | July 20, 2006 7:16 PM | Report abuse

Chris, It was nice to meet you in Crisfield. I will be reading The Fix on-line from now on. Don't forget to put the Md Assoc. of Counties Summer Convention in OC in August on your calendar. The political players will all be there.
~A new reader.
PS. In response to Adam Terando's comment above, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.

Posted by: A new reader | July 20, 2006 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Steele strikes me as a real nice guy who however should not be Senator. The fact that he has fundraised with Karl Rove isn't even the only reason why. The fact is that in the Senate it almost never matters where individual politicians stand on policies, because most Senators vote with the way their party leaders tell them to, and if Steele is elected, the Senate's leaders will continue to be Republican. With Republicans in charge, blacks -- and all other middle income people -- will continue to suffer from Bush Co's favor-the-super-rich (not just the merely comfortably rich) policies.

I say, why not elect the guy who used to be head of the Congressional Black Caucus, before moving on to run the NAACP: Kweisi Mfume? Mfume's got my vote.

Posted by: Ramon W | July 20, 2006 6:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure I'd be so up on Steele if this is the best their campaign can do as a dig into Democrats,

"They are trying to paint Michael Steele as a Republican," he said. "Everybody knows that."

Ummm.....So what happens when voters find out he actually IS a republican? Also, what republican policies over the last 130 years have helped African-americans? All I ever hear from these new republicans is, "Oh you can vote for us, we LIKE black people now. Some of our candidates are even black! Plus, we'll make your lives better by privatizing social security and cutting back on all government services. know, private charity worked so well to stave off the Great Depression. It'll do just as great now!"

Gimme a break. Just remember Al Shaprton's speech at the 2004 convention.

Posted by: Adam Terando | July 20, 2006 5:39 PM | Report abuse

If you want to come to Kentucky some time, we have an annual picnic the first Saturday in August, in far Western Kentucky (almost to Missouri). It used to be fun retail politics, but lately has become more gimmicky, but still a classic for Ky.

Of course, this year all the excitement will be with our indicted Governor, since it is in the 1st CD, and Whitfield appears to be safe, and no Senate race.

Posted by: Ed | July 20, 2006 5:17 PM | Report abuse

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