With Congressional Primary Approaching, Mfume Prepares for More Attacks

Women surround ex-Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D) during a prayer service in Baltimore Saturday. Photo by Glynis Kazanjian

Democratic candidates in Maryland’s 7th congressional district special election spent Saturday preparing for Tuesday’s primary vote in strikingly different ways.

Former Rep. Kweisi Mfume found himself surrounded by a circle of African-American women in a Baltimore City church at a special prayer service held in his honor to ward off last minute “enemy” attacks, which his campaign believes are imminent.

Sixteen miles away in Howard County, eight candidates participated in a Democratic forum, with a largely white audience, before most hit the streets to knock on doors, seeking last-minute votes.

Twenty-four Democrats are competing in the special primary to replace the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who died in October. The Republican primary features eight candidates — though the winner of the Democratic contest will be heavily favored in the April 28 special general election, which coincides with the regular 2020 primaries.

Most political insiders call Mfume the frontrunner in the race, but negative press about his leadership at the NAACP, which included a sexual harassment complaint, may be beginning to stick in a state that has no female representatives in its 10-member congressional delegation.

“There is a feeling in the final days of this campaign his opponents may do or say just about anything to get attention for themselves and to tear down Rep. Mfume,” Mfume campaign spokesman Anthony McCarthy said.

The attacks may be hard hitting.

Nearly 150 African American women, including the spouses of prominent city pastors, known as first ladies, filled the pews, sang songs at the New Shiloh Baptist Church and prayed to protect Mfume and “see the wicked shut down.”

On the altar, Mfume and his wife, Tiffany, stood in a prayer circle enclosed by six women, including Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby (D), and prayed.

“We’re asking you to place a hedge of protection around them,” Winsome Saunders said, speaking from the dais. “Oh God, insulate them from the attacks of the enemy. Shelter them under your wings…Grant them special knowledge to discern the tactics of the enemy.”

At the Howard County forum, candidates reconvened with their campaign teams to canvass neighborhoods, visit barbershops and engage in other activities to get out the vote.

An aide for state Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) said the campaign had big plans for the weekend leading into the Tuesday’s vote. The campaign is hoping to knock on 5,000 additional doors, adding to the nearly 10,000 voters they’ve already visited.

Carter has been endorsed by former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous, who received over 1 million votes in the 2018 gubernatorial election he lost to incumbent Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).

“There’s a reason Ben Jealous endorsed me over Mfume, who was also an NAACP president,” Carter said.

Carter, who considers herself the most progressive candidate in the race, also received an endorsement from Our Revolution Maryland.

“I think we’ve outworked every other campaign,” Carter’s political consultant Stefan Walker said.

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the former Maryland Democratic chairwoman and Cummings’ widow, is also considered a strong contender in the primary because of the name recognition she enjoys.

But Carter said the only people that catapult Cummings to the top of the race are the media and the pundits.

“That couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Carter said. “Talk to the voters of the 7th District.”

Carter noted that Congressman Cummings endorsed her in her state Senate run in 2018.

“He called me ‘the People’s Champion,’ in his endorsement announcement,” Carter said.

Baltimore and Howard counties represent 42 percent of eligible Democratic voters in the 7th, according to the most recent figures provided by the State Board of Elections.

Some political analysts believe the counties could be a factor if the vote splits in Baltimore City, where 58 percent of eligible Democratic voters reside.

Another factor could be white, liberal voters found in the suburbs — and women.

“I’m scratching off all the men from my list,” said one female forum attendee when she found out Maryland’s congressional delegation does not include a single woman.

Other women interviewed backed candidates like Del. Terri L. Hill (D-Howard), who have emphasized climate change concerns in their platforms.

And another woman said she’s still on the fence because of Mfume’s negative press.

“I have some concerns about his NAACP record,” said the 65 year-old-voter. But she said she still was interested in Mfume’s experience as a former congressman.

“These are big shoes to fill,” she said. “I want someone who can hit the ground running.”

While the special election to replace Cummings was announced in the fall, only recently did the state elections board send out election notifications.

“The notice of election was mailed Thursday, January 23, 2020 so that the voters would receive the notice this week,” said Donna J. Duncan, assistant deputy director for Election Policy at the Maryland State Board of Elections. “Election law specifies specimen ballot mailing one week before the first day of early voting. Since there is no early voting, mailing was sent at least one week prior to the election.”

Patrick Gonzales, an Annapolis-based pollster, believes Mfume has the upper hand in the primary race, but he also thinks it’s possible Cummings could win.

“Cummings, is the only one who can give Mfume a run for his money and visa-versa,” Gonzales said.

But Gonzales hasn’t done any polling on the race, which, he says, has been unusually quiet.

The one thing pundits, politicians and pollsters agree on is that turnout for Tuesday’s primary election is expected to be low.

Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]