Most pundits know that the 2004 Illinois Senate race that pitted Democrat Barak Obama versus Republican Alan Keyes was a historic one. Not for Obama’s blowout victory, or for the scandal over Keyes’s carpetbagger status, but for the fact that it was the first Senate race in which the representatives of both major parties were men of African American descent. If the bloggers at Outside Report are correct, this is a sight we may need to get used to. Next year’s Ohio gubernatorial election may feature the Democratic mayor of Columbus Michael Coleman versus Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, both African American. And in Maryland, race for Paul Sarbanes’ vacated Senate seat could end up being a battle between former NAACP chair Kweisi Mfume and Lt. Governor Michael Steele. The Outside Report writers consider this progress, not just because the candidates are African American, but also because they are all excellent candidates. I tend to agree.
Naturally, I’m most interested in the Maryland Senate race. I agree that a Steele victory would be a watershed for the GOP. Governor Ehrlich proved that a GOP candidate can win a statewide race in Maryland. Granted, Ehrlich was helped by universal hatred for outgoing Governor Parris Glendenning and the incompetent campaigning of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, but he proved Baltimore’s electoral lock on Maryland politics can be broken. I don’t think we’ll ever see another statewide contest where the Democratic candidate loses every county but Baltimore and still takes the race, like Glendenning did in his first go-around. Steele has the opportunity to solidify Ehrlich’s work by making a run for the Senate. Though I would give the early line to the Democrats, Steele’s race and the fact that he has already won a statewide contest could make the Senate race more competitive than one would otherwise expect from a deep blue state like Maryland. If Steele — a true conservative who differs from his boss Ehrlich on abortion, and, as a devout Catholic, has doubts about usage of the death penalty — can make a successful run at the Senate next year, the reverberations will be felt for years to come. Though initial reports had him begging off in order to take a shot at governor in 2010, the most recent story is that he’s seriously considering a run.