Ehrlich tapped Michael Steele, a black Republican businessman from well-heeled, very-black Prince George’s County as his running mate. Then he engaged Mitchell to help him woo pissed-off black Baltimore Dems. T-shirts, signs, and bumper-stickers with a not-so-subtle message began to dot some black Baltimore neighborhoods. They read “Steele Democrat”, a coy double-entendre that was both the rallying cry for Mitchell’s effort to drive black voters into the GOP camp and a thumbing of the nose at the Democratic establishment that had displaced him.
The same establishment allowed Townsend to commit the fatal gaffe of picking a white, career Republican as her running mate in a state brimming with young, progressive black voters. Ehrlich and Steele won 51.5 percent to 47.6 percent, carrying a higher percentage of black votes than any Republican candidate in a statewide race in recent, if not recorded, history.
Steele, staunchly GOP, became something Democrats had never even envisioned: the state’s first black lieutenant governor.
Fast forward six years. Barack Obama is no Clarence Mitchell IV, threatening to burn the party down if he loses. Nor is Hillary Clinton a Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, susceptible to political miscalculation on a grand scale and aloof enough on the stump to mistake the name of one black college for another.
Still, parallels exist that should worry Democratic strategists come November. Some Pennsylvania exit polls suggest that a small but significant number of Obama supporters would still rather stay home or vote elephant if Hills gets the nod. And though we can presume Obama would do his best to get his supporters marching lockstep with Clinton if she is the nominee, you can bet some operative is already in the wings with “Obama Republican” shirts, signs, and bumper stickers to hand out.
Anyone got C4’s number?
Keith Reed is a writer living in Ohio.