The Maryland Democratic Party broke its own rules with a series of tweets favoring the re-election of incumbent Ben Cardin in his Senate primary race against state senator Anthony Muse. And comments from the Republican candidate in that race cast that endorsement, and one from President Barack Obama in November, in racial tones since Cardin is white and Muse is black.
Cardin, who will stand for re-election this year, faces what could turn into a rough primary battle against Muse, an African-American minister who represents a largely lower-income district in Maryland’s state senate.
Obama endorsed Cardin in late November, in a move the Washington Post labeled an “early endorsement” that raised eyebrows because neither of Maryland’s biggest political parties considers the race “one of its most competitive” in the current election cycle.
Muse, the Post noted, has “spoken of the importance of electing an African American to the Senate, so the backing of the first black president could help Cardin among the same Democratic voters Muse is hoping to reach.”
Muse officially announced his candidacy on Thursday. He is a supporter of government-issued private school vouchers issued to parents in poverty-stricken parts of Maryland, making him a potential November threat to Obama’s re-election narrative. Teachers unions, which adamantly oppose school choice, are expected to be a key constituency in Obama’s re-election effort.
On the same day Muse entered the U.S. Senate race, the Maryland Democratic Party amplified Prince Georges County Executive Rushern Baker’s endorsement of Cardin’s re-election campaign.
“Sen Cardin’s commitment to #PrinceGeorges is why we’re fighting so hard to reelect him – CE Baker,” one tweet read.
“MD families need @SenatorCardin fighting for them. @CountyExecBaker strongly agrees,” another tweet read.
A third tweet read: “@CountyExecBaker: I couldn’t ask for a better partner than @SenatorCardin.”
With those online endorsements, the party appears to be breaking its own bylaws. In a section titled “Neutrality in Primary Campaigns,” state Democratic officials are prohibiting from using “the staff and headquarters of the Maryland Democratic Party” to help one Democratic primary candidate gain an “advantage … over another, except insofar as services and information are equally available to all Democratic candidates.”
The Republican Senate candidate in Maryland, Daniel Bongino, is a former secret service agent who was part of President Obama’s personal protection detail before resigning to run for the Senate. He told The Daily Caller that Obama’s early endorsement, and the state Democrats’ violation of their own bylaws, are “embarrassing.”
“But, what I find really disturbing is that the president comes out and endorses Cardin,” Bongino said in a phone interview. “I mean, obviously one dynamic here, and we want to avoid inserting race into this, but you’ve got this ‘middle class warrior’ argument coming from the president. Then, you’ve got this prominent state senator who represents lower-income, middle class folks in Prince Georges county who happens to be African-American.”
“They break their own rules and endorse Cardin over their own Twitter account and then the president gets involved as well,” Bongino adds. “You would think the Democrats in Maryland would have enough intelligence or bona fides institutionally to be more careful if they’re going to involve the president in, though it is for a federal office, what is a local race.”
Bongino didn’t fault Obama for weighing in, but he offered pointed criticism for the Maryland Democratic Party.
“I don’t blame him. Listen, he’s the president of the United States, he’s got a lot on his mind,” Bongino told TheDC. “He’s not expected to understand Maryland’s bylaws. But I blame the Maryland Democratic Party for putting the president on the spot. This is a very serious offense: They broke their own bylaws in endorsing Cardin. This should be the Democrats of Maryland, the people’s decision, and then I don’t think they advised the president of the consequences of this.”
A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee did not respond to a request for comment. But Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Matthew Verghese told TheDC that he doesn’t think those tweets are official endorsements because the Party attributed the pro-Cardin comments to somebody else and linked to a video in which he made them.
“We’re promoting statements by Rushern Baker on why he believes Senator Cardin is the best person for the job and promoting links and sharing videos,” Verghese said. “No one is supporting campaigns. Social media is just sharing information, amplifying information, that’s already out there in the public discourse.”
Verghese said that when the Maryland Democratic Party makes an endorsement “we come out and say it very, very clearly. We do not mince words.”
“The Party does not endorse during primary campaigns,” Verghese said. “We have not endorsed Senator Cardin.”
Nevertheless, Bongino sees the party’s series of tweets as an attempt to silence debate and political opposition to anything Obama stands for. he said President Obama “should rescind his endorsement, say ‘we broke our own laws, I am a Democrat and this is the Maryland Democratic Party, and I rescind the endorsement until they’re willing to follow their own rules.’”
“It’s the right thing to do. The guy [Muse] is a legitimate candidate.”
Muse did not respond to requests for comment. But Bongino thinks the early involvement of Obama and the Maryland party establishment is a sign that party officials are “desperately avoiding” talking about school choice and what he considers racially unfair redistricting in Maryland.
“First, they want to avoid any talk in Maryland of the school choice issue,” Bongino said. “They don’t want to touch it. And, secondly, there is the redistricting issue that they had — it may have helped the Democratic Party apparatus but certainly did not help rank and file Democrats.”
“The redistricting issue, which Senator Muse has been outspoken about, broke up majority-minority districts and really diluted any influence the black vote would have had in Maryland,” Bongino added. “He [Muse] was the one, the only Democrat in the state legislature, who voted against it.”
Verghese said he doesn’t believe Obama is subject to Maryland Democratic Party bylaws. When The Daily Caller asked him if Obama is subject to the same rules as state-level party officials in Maryland, Verghese responded: “Oh, no, no.”
“We all know elected leaders endorse other elected leaders all the time,” Verghese said. “If he [President Obama] wants to support Ben Cardin and his re-election to the United States Senate, then I think he’s completely within his right to do so.”