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.
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.
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."
July 20, 2006; 4:01 PM ET
Categories: Governors , Senate
Save & Share: Previous: Mark Warner Lands Another Top Campaign Recruit
Next: The Friday Line: Dems Firm Up House Target List
Posted by: Magnolia | July 25, 2006 3:22 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jim Crow Laws | July 24, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Why? | July 24, 2006 12:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Greg in LA | July 21, 2006 12:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kvandy | July 21, 2006 12:24 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes | July 21, 2006 12:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Carolinas | July 21, 2006 10:56 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Adam Terando | July 21, 2006 10:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Crab Fest | July 21, 2006 10:21 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | July 21, 2006 1:46 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: che | July 21, 2006 12:47 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: oh please . . . | July 20, 2006 11:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: sturmgrenadier | July 20, 2006 8:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Look to Mississippi | July 20, 2006 8:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | July 20, 2006 8:30 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Crabbyfeaster | July 20, 2006 7:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | July 20, 2006 7:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jay lassiter | July 20, 2006 7:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jay lassiter | July 20, 2006 7:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: sturmgrenadier | July 20, 2006 7:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: A new reader | July 20, 2006 6:43 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Ramon W | July 20, 2006 6:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Adam Terando | July 20, 2006 5:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Ed | July 20, 2006 5:17 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.