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Influential Black Democrats Endorse Republican

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

And now we look at two of the nation's most hotly contested Senate races, the first in Maryland where NPR's Allison Keyes has been keeping a close watch. Allison, 30 percent of the voters in Maryland are African American, and so is the Republican candidate, Michael Steele. Last week you told us that Steele, currently the lieutenant governor, was making inroads among traditionally Democratic black voters, and I understand he got what could be a big boost. Tell us about it.

ALLISON KEYES: Last week he was endorsed by influential former Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry, a man that has a lot of pull in that area. Along with Curry he was also endorsed by several Democratic county councilmen and a group of black ministers as well. I spoke to Curry on Friday. Let's listen to what he said.

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Mr. WAYNE CURRY (Former Prince George's County Executive): It was only after a lot of reflection and an opportunity, I think, for the Democratic Party to demonstrate seriousness about the issues that are of importance here. And it didn't seem that our interest was taken seriously, and as a result, when you are comparing the silence on those subjects on the one hand to what has been consistent advocacy on those subjects by Michael Steele on the other hand, I think that in many respects the party defaulted and people simply expressed their frustration.

KEYES: The Democratic candidate, Congressman Ben Cardin, has spent most of last week in Prince George's County. There were some that joked that he almost moved to the county for the week. But the day after this huge endorsement for Steele, Cardin himself was also endorsed by about 30 Prince George's County elected officials, including the current county executive there, Jack B. Johnson.

Elijah Cummings, who was a former congressional Black Caucus president, and also a Maryland representative, has been campaigning with Cardin, and he says although black people are going to vote for Steele, he doesn't think it's going to be enough to cause Cardin to lose this race.

Rep. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (Democrat, Maryland): I think that Mr. Steele will get some African-American votes, but I think more and more the polls are showing that the vast majority of African-Americans believe that his policies and his beliefs are not consistent with theirs.

ELLIOTT: Allison, with just hours left now in the campaign, where are the candidates concentrating? What are they doing?

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KEYES: Both are continuing their push at trying to get the black vote. Ben Cardin was in four black Baptist churches this morning. Michael Steele was at black Baptist churches this morning. Steele also appeared on Fox News. Cardin didn't join him because he was at a black church this morning. And former President Bill Clinton is campaigning with Cardin in Prince George's County tonight in yet another push. Please come out and vote for me, he's saying.

ELLIOTT: So the heavy hitters coming in here at the last minute, Allison. What are the polls saying is happening in the Maryland race?

KEYES: The latest poll that came out today is actually very interesting. Mason and Dixon Polling now say that Ben Cardin is leading Michael Steele by 47 to 44 percent in a poll with a margin of error of no more than plus or minus four percentage points, so clearly this race is down to the wire.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Allison Keyes, thank you.

KEYES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.