The conventional wisdom in Maryland politics is that former Rep. Kweisi Mfume just can't stop the establishment connections and money of Rep. Ben Cardin in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes. Sunday's Washington Post puts a big crimp in that CW -- Mfume leads Cardin, 31-25, albeit with strong racial divisions. (Democrats believe Cardin is the man because he does better in head-to-head polls with Republican nominee Michael Steele.)
It's Michael Steele that really draws out the negative press from the Post, though. While Steele usually can't buy a spot on the front page of Metro for his campaign, it was B-1 all the way last Monday when the Post claimed "Steele's Donor List Raises Racial Questions." Reporter Matthew Mosk explained his rollout of the race card, a la Willie Horton:
Unlike the dozens of high-dollar events across the country in his U.S. Senate bid, this event was thrown by the producer of the famous "Willie Horton" ad, the 1988 commercial that came to symbolize the cynical use of skin color as a political wedge.
No editorializing there, eh? That's funny. I thought it was an ad about how Gov. Michael Dukakis let convicted murderers out for the weekends on furlough -- and how some of them escaped the state to terrorize people in other states. That somehow gets lost in the historical translation. Mosk lines up the liberal critics, without liberal labels:
"Why would he go for money to those who have done us harm?" asked Elbridge James, a former leader of the NAACP's Montgomery County branch.
Steele said he sees nothing unusual about getting help from Floyd Brown's Citizens United Political Victory Fund. Brown produced the Willie Horton ad, which helped torpedo Michael Dukakis's presidential campaign by drawing attention to a weekend furlough program that released a black convicted murderer serving a life sentence.
Nor, Steele said, was there anything incongruous about donations he took from others who have offended black audiences in the past, including Republican Sens. Trent Lott (Miss.) and Conrad Burns (Mont.) as well as Alex Castellanos, the man behind the racially charged "White Hands" ad that then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) used to attack his black challenger.
It featured a close-up shot of a pair of white hands crumpling a letter as the narrator says, "You needed that job . . . but they had to give it to a minority."
Mosk's story has the clear flavor of a Democratic handout. Notice how he doesn't elaborate on what Horton did to deserve imprisonment -- stabbed a gas-station attendant like a pin cushion -- or elaborate on where Horton went to terrorize on the weekend that earned the commercial -- why, he went to Maryland, where he assaulted a man and raped his fiancee. It's funny how the history gets lost in Mosk's in-kind contribution of an article.