ANNAPOLIS — For state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, campaigning to oust sitting U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin has not been about winning over the Democratic establishment.
Early in his campaign, Muse took aim at party leaders for what he said were inappropriate pre-primary endorsements and acknowledged he is the underdog in Tuesday’s primary, a contest in which observers say he is unlikely to topple the well-funded and popular Cardin.
“No one expected this to become a race, but it became a race because I did not wait for the party bosses,” said Muse.
While Muse, 53, is confident in his grassroots campaign, the Democratic primary race, which boasts an additional seven largely unknown candidates, is not competitive, said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University who was among Cardin’s challengers in the 2006 primary.
“People don’t see it as a competitive contest,” said Lichtman, who earned only 1.2 percent of the vote six years ago when the seat was open due to the retirement of Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes. “I think they see Ben Cardin as likely to be coronated for a second term.”
Cardin, 68, benefits from name recognition and, as a sitting senator, attracts more donors and high-profile endorsements, said Laura Hussey, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. With a strong incumbent, there’s also less focus on the contrast between the candidates, she said.
Both candidates have campaigned on issues such as job creation and health care, but Muse, who is African-American, is quick to circle back to what he says is a dissatisfaction with Congress and his message that Maryland, which has a population that is almost 30 percent black, is poised to elect an African-American at a time when there are no black U.S. senators.
Had the seat been open, the demographic and geographic differences would have played a bigger role in the election, Hussey said. Both Muse, a pastor from Prince George’s County, and Cardin, who is white, Jewish and from Baltimore, have courted religious leaders and minority voters.
Key Democrats support Cardin, including President Barack Obama, Gov. Martin O’Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Kweisi Mfume, a former African-American congressman Cardin bested by little more than 3 percentage points in the 2006 primary.
Cardin, who also served 20 years in the House of Representatives, is well financed, reporting $1.8 million in the bank as of his last campaign finance filing.
Muse has yet to file a pre-primary campaign finance report, which was due last week to the Federal Election Commission. Campaign manager Terry Speigner said the forms will be filed within a few days. He declined to say how much cash Muse has. Speigner explained that the campaign finance data was late because staffers are “working as hard and fast as you can.”
Earlier this week, Muse said he was not worried about fundraising and was confident that recently purchased advertisements will buoy his name recognition. Speigner would not say how much the campaign spent on the ads, but that television and radio spots would be airing in the Washington and Baltimore markets.
Lichtman argues that Muse has not reached out to enough people to take votes away from Cardin.
“I’m a prime primary voter,” Lichtman said. “I vote all the time, and if anyone should be getting anything, it’s me.”
Muse points to support from the Workers United union, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union that has about 2,000 Maryland members, as an important endorsement because he says the group represents the constituents he speaks for.
He said Cardin is out of touch with Marylanders and failed to show leadership in the Senate, saying the incumbent has fallen in line as a “good Democrat” on issues including taxes and budgetary gridlock in Washington. Muse said he will be a better advocate for average citizens, pushing for transportation projects and consumer protection.
While Democrats’ chances against Cardin are slim, whoever wins the Republican primary will likely serve as a sacrificial lamb, Lichtman said.
“There is nothing that could happen that could elect a Republican with Barack Obama leading the ticket,” he said
Daniel Bongino, a former Secret Service agent, is among the 10 Republican candidates. Once the primary election is over and parties publicly get behind the winning candidates, Bongino, who lives in Severna Park, believes the campaign will turn competitive.
“After the primary, when everyone coalesces around the candidates, I think you’re going to see a race that’s not only in play, but strongly in play,” Bongino said.
According to federal campaign finance records, Bongino, 37, has $15,909 in cash available. Richard Douglas, a Bush administration defense department appointee from Bladensburg, has $21,276 in cash going into the primary. Up-to-date campaign finance filings for other Republican candidates were not available.
Bongino appears to be the Republican candidate getting the most attention, but that will mean very little after the primary, Hussey said.
“On the Republican side, given how solidly Democratic Maryland is, it’s merely a race to see who will lose to the Democrat,” she wrote. Maryland, which hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1980, is a decidedly blue state with registered Democratic voters outnumbering the GOP 2 to 1.
For Douglas, 55, challenging Cardin isn’t a matter of finances. He says his campaign would cross party lines attracting African-American and Democratic voters to support a Republican.
“I believe I am the candidate that Mr. Cardin would hate to run against the most,” Douglas said.
Cardin pays little mind to the host of people who want to take his seat. He points to the 2006 election which pitted him against former Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele in the general election as a more “active political season.”
Cardin expected primary challengers and said the competition has had little bearing on his campaign, which has focused on job expansion, transportation and health care.
“It’s not really dependent upon the candidates who are running against me,” Cardin said.