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Frank DeFilippo: Ben Cardin, the Forgotten Man of the Primary

U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) official portrait

To Cardin, or not to Cardin, that is the question.

Or, put another way, is anyone aware that Cardin’s running for reelection? And who’re all those no-names running against him?

They are, as they appear on the sample ballot: Ben Cardin, Erik Jetmir, Chelsea Manning, Marcia H. Morgan. Jerome “Jerry” Segal, Richard “Rikki” Vaughn, Debbie “Rica” Wilson and Lih Young – eight in all.

But they’re only the Democrats. Here are the Republicans, all 11 of them: Tony Campbell, Chris Chaffee, Evan Cronhardt, Nnabu Eze, John Graziani, Christina Gregorian, Albert Benyahmin Howard, Bill Krehnbrink, Gerald Smith, Blaine Taylor and Brian Vaeth.

And the back of the pack, five more of different nomenclatures: Mia Mason (Green), Arvin Vahra (Libertarian), State Gladstone (I), Edward Shlikas (I) and Neal Simon (I).


Chelsea Manning? You read that right. She’s the former he who was convicted of passing sensitive classified government documents to Wikileaks. Manning, a former Army private, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. President Obama, near the end of his presidency, commuted Manning’s sentence to the seven years served. Manning was released from prison in Kansas and established herself in Maryland, which she now calls home.

Manning, now 30 and a transgender activist, recently hinted at suicide, according to reports, tweeting that “I’m really not cut out for this world.” Earlier, in prison, Manning attempted suicide and was put on suicide watch.

Jerome “Jerry” Segal? Readers of The Washington Post are confronted almost daily by Segal’s lengthy, dense and costly screeds on the prospects of peace in the Middle East and Cardin’s alleged errant voting habits as they affect the Palestinians.

Segal’s writings – duly annotated as “advertisements for myself” – usually are boxed, agate type, two columns wide and run the full 20 ½-inch length of the newspaper’s print page. Late last week, Segal expanded his presentation to a three-column width comparison of him and Cardin, and again, to a half page. Ice cream aficionados will appreciate the occasional playful headlines – “Ben or Jerry” or “Ben and Jerry.”

Segal, 75, of Silver Spring, is an occasional academic with a string of alphabet soup trailing his name who classifies himself as a philosopher, and a hangover from the 1960s when he earned his stripes as a liberal provocateur who evolved into a full-blown devotee of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Segal tweaks Cardin for being insufficiently creative and for being a traditional liberal with a fuzzy notion of the American dream. One man’s dream is another’s psychiatrist’s couch.

As for the rest? Your guess is as good as anyone else’s. They’re politically anonymous, probably either out on a lark or running to get the bug-bite out of their systems. A vaguely recognizable one or two run regularly and habitually. Simon is a successful businessman who has suggested he will spend some of his own money on the race, but it’s hard to say what that will amount to.

The Ben Cardin on the sample ballot is U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), the senior half of Maryland’s duo in the Senate who’s running for his third term. Cardin enjoyed the spotlight for nearly three years when he became the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He assumed the highly visible slot when Sen. Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, stepped aside to fight federal charges of corruption. When a mistrial was declared and the Justice Department dropped the charges, Cardin relinquished the post back to Menendez and faded to number two.

Cardin also serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee (critical to the Chesapeake Bay), the Senate Finance Committee and the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

No one expected Cardin, 74, to have a stiff contest this year. He won reelection in 2012 by 30 points, so no bold-face Democrat ventured forth and Republicans have ceded the seat to Cardin for what appears to be at least another term.

Cardin, a member of a prominent Baltimore political family, won his first political office in 1966 as the youngest person at the time ever elected to the House of Delegates – where he eventually became speaker – and he did it while still in law school. He then served in the House of Representatives before advancing to the Senate.

Cardin has a vast fundraising network through his 52 years in public office as well as his work on Jewish causes. Cardin had more than $2.8 million in available cash as of his June 6 campaign finance report. But understandably, not much spending has appeared in his reelection campaign so far – no television commercials, few signs and no mailers – the usual paraphernalia that herald an intense campaign, or to establish a presence.

For Cardin, politics is a form-follows-function kind of business. It cannot be said that Cardin is hoarding his cash for a tough general election campaign. There is none. That in itself reflects the comfort level Cardin has achieved. It has always been Cardin’s method to rely more on the internal mechanics of politics than on gaudy public displays. In the Cardin stylebook, endorsements, pledges of support and personal appearances, for example, are the rudiments that form a voter delivery system more than banners and billboards.

The Senate race – forgive the over-statement – has been overlooked as much of the attention has beamed in on the contest for governor and the ballot distractions upending campaign strategies and testing election laws. And three new polls, released within striking distance of early voting curtain-time have projected that the face-off among seven major Democrats has been reduced to two candidates – Rushern Baker, executive of Prince George’s County and Ben Jealous, former CEO of the NAACP.

In a sense, the showdown between the two remaining blacks in the Democratic race is a duel between Baltimore City, where Jealous is more acceptable than Baker, and the Maryland suburbs around the District of Columbia, where Baker is the favorite son.

Black residents of Prince George’s County represent 74 percent of the population and tend to be better educated and more prosperous. Many are federal government employees. And Mitchellville is the wealthiest black enclave in the nation in Maryland’s second most populous jurisdiction. Baker has governed Prince George’s for eight years and before that was among its representatives in Annapolis.

Adjoining Montgomery County has a burgeoning minority population. Its school system is now more than 70 percent minority. It’s politics and its media market are directed toward Washington as is Prince George’s.

Baltimore, by comparison, with a 69 percent black population, is short on diplomas and high in black unemployment. Much of the new development in the city is happening around the rim of its waterfront and has basically shut out blacks from the prosperity that has failed to radiate to the rest of the impecunious city. It is here where Jealous spent his summers and where his populist message of universal health care, free college and a $15 minimum wage resonates with voters.

But there’s an invisible brick wall ahead. In a hypothetical match-up for the November general election, Baker, the favorite of Democratic mandarins, carries Baltimore by only 1 point over Republican Gov. Larry Hogan – 43-42 percent – in last week’s Gonzales Research and Media Services Maryland Poll. (Mayor Catherine Pugh, Democrat, appears prominently in a Hogan television commercial.)

If a black Democrat can’t romp over a white Republican in heavily black Baltimore, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 10-1, consider the outcome in the rest of the state. And consider whether the Democrats’ anticipated “blue wave” is merely a conversational ripple.

P.S. Ben Cardin’s constituent-base overlaps Baltimore and suburban Washington. Between the two, there are about a quarter of a million Jewish residents who rack up consistently heavy voter turnouts.

As they used to say in the bad old days, vote early and often. And in many cases, they meant it. Literally. Even the dead.


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Frank DeFilippo: Ben Cardin, the Forgotten Man of the Primary