Two African American candidates running for the U.S. Senate this year appear to have a chance to win election -- and make history. Democratic Party Congressman Harold Ford, Junior, of Tennessee could become the first African American to be elected Senator from the South in 125 years. If Republican Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele wins in Maryland, he would be the state's first black Senator.
Michael Steele is a conservative Republican running in a liberal state -- and Harold Ford is a Democrat trying to win in a conservative state.
It is a challenge that has forced both men to tailor their campaigns, according to David Bositis, an expert on black electoral politics. "Clearly in Harold Ford's case, who is in a more conservative state and Michael Steele's case, who is in a more liberal state, they have to move in the opposite direction from where their political party usually pulls them. So Michael Steele pretends he's not a Republican and tries to seem as moderate in his positions as he possibly can whereas Harold Ford has cast several conservative votes over the past year as he has been positioning himself to run for statewide office."
This has been evident in debates with their rivals and on the campaign trail. Ford emphasizes traditional values and goes against his party on such issues as gay marriage. "I've never supported gay marriage."
Republican Steele stresses problem solving in a "blue" state that traditionally votes for Democrats. "I'm talking to real Marylanders whose problems aren't red or blue, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, they're real."
On a recent NBC Meet the Press program, Steele also emphasized his differences with the Bush administration over Iraq. "We are at a point right now where there is no clear strategy or clear direction on the ground. You hear it from the generals; you hear it from the personnel on the ground. I think the focus has to be, going forward, what is the strategy?"
But these positions may not be enough to surmount the advantage held by Steele's opponent, Congressman Benjamin Cardin -- who has brought in high profile Democrats to campaign for him.
"Winning is still a very long shot for Michael Steele. Maryland is a very Democratic state. This is probably going to be quite a bad year for the Republican candidates," says analyst David Bositis.
Ford has a better chance according to opinion polls. But a recent Republican attack ad -- with a woman in a suggestive pose -- alleges, "I met Harold at the Playboy party."
this could undercut his support, even though the commercial was pulled -- and repudiated by Ford's Republican opponent, Bob Corker. However, Ford might still win if Democrats turn out in large numbers.
Bositis adds, “He has to hope that there is a Democratic wave, as it appears to be now, that there's a Democratic wave in November and I think if there is, there'll be a good chance that Harold Ford will be elected."
Voters will decide the fate of both black Senate candidates next Tuesday.