This column misidentified Maryland as commonwealth. Maryland is a state. Additionally, this column incorrectly stated that if Michael Steele wins his race for U.S. Senate from Maryland, he
would be the first black Republican elected to that body since Reconstruction. Edward Brooke, a black Republican from Massachussetts, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1966. Correction appended.

Angela Cesere

A lot of media attention this election cycle has focused on the Democrats’ chances of taking back control of Congress. Indeed, even as you read this, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is probably combing through fabric swatches, trying to decide how she will renovate House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) office. But precious little of the media’s attention has focused on the black community’s upheaval in Maryland.

Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is running to fill the Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.). Traditionally, Republicans in Maryland with aspirations for higher office move south of the Beltway into Virginia – a commonwealth more hospitable to conservatives – but Steele has defied odds by winning elections in the Democratic stronghold. Now, he has set his sights on making a splash on the national stage by becoming the first black Republican elected to the Senate since Reconstruction ended.

The difference in the way the media has treated Steele’s candidacy compared to Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) 2004 campaign is staggering. Obama received wide acclaim for his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention for talking about “purple” values, and pundits immediately hailed him as the voice of the “new” Democratic Party. Steele made a similarly passionate speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, but the media did not throw any bouquets in his direction. Now that the Obama has announced that he will explore a 2008 presidential run – meaning the promise made to Illinoisans (like me) to serve his six-year term was not ironclad – the media is doing everything it can to encourage Obama speed up his so-called destiny. Conversely, there has been very little national discussion about how Steele’s election would signify a turning point in the modern Republican Party and the pursuit of higher office in general. Obama is clearly the media’s favorite African-American.

Imagine that during Obama’s senatorial campaign, members of the National Republican Senatorial Committee had illegally obtained his credit information by confiscating his social security number – what do you think would have been the media’s reaction? My guess is that the media would have risen judiciously to Obama’s defense, demanding prosecution of the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law and taking pity on Obama for being the victim of political tricks.

Well, the previously described situation actually happened to Steele. The Democratic staffer in charge of the operation received a pitiful punishment of 150 hours of community service. If this is the first you heard of it, I am not surprised.

Discrimination on account of his party preference is nothing new to Steele, given his skin color. During a 2002 debate in Baltimore, supporters of Steele’s Democratic opponent pelted him with Oreo cookies – suggesting Steele may be black on the outside but his policies make him white on the inside. Late last year, Steve Gilliard’s blog The News Blog featured a doctored depiction of Steele as a black-faced minstrel. While stumping for Congressman Ben Cardin, Steele’s Democratic opponent, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer recently said Steele “slavishly supports the Republican party.” Doesn’t this hostile treatment of a black man on account of his political party go against the very principles of equality and diversity that liberals claim as their own?

Steele’s campaign believes it can convince black voters to move away from their traditional alliance with the Democratic Party, thereby minimizing Cardin’s chances of being elected. Steele’s election strategy hinges on getting unprecedented support in Prince George County – where Steele worked for many years to build up the Republican Party. Prince George County is the richest majority black county in America, and a significant number of its elected black Democrats have endorsed Steele. A mutiny against the Democratic Party by black Marylanders is afoot, and justifiably so.

In the history of the state of Maryland, the last time an African-American was voted into state office was when Edward Brooke, a black Republican from Massachussetts, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1966. This is alarming considering that about 28 percent of Maryland’s population is black and black turnout on Election Day tends to exceed 30 percent of total voters. Adding insult to injury, black politicians account for a mere 20 percent of Maryland’s Democratic Congressional delegation. Perhaps Maryland’s black voters have finally had enough with their misrepresentation in Congress.

Democrats are scared shitless of the ripple effects Steele’s election could have on the black community. All of a sudden, Obama will have an equally credible conservative black opponent to debate against on the Sunday morning talk shows. Even scarier to Democrats, Steele is the product of the exact opposite of the principles Democrats spew to the black community – he’s privately educated, socially conservative and a strong supporter of the free market. Most important, Steele’s election will signify Democrats can no longer take the black vote for granted.

John Stiglich can be reached at jcsgolf@umich.edu.

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