WASHINGTON — Former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, a onetime Maryland congressman, declared his intention Monday to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes.
"I can't be bought. I won't be intimidated. I don't know how to quit," Mfume told supporters at a rally in Baltimore. Mfume is seeking the 2006 Democratic nomination to succeed Sarbanes, who announced Friday that he would retire at the end of his fifth term.
"On the Democratic side, this [race] is wide open," said Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst.
Among those contemplating entering the race are Reps. Chris Van Hollen, Benjamin L. Cardin, Elijah E. Cummings and Albert Russell Wynn, according to state Democratic officials.
On the Republican side, one oft-mentioned candidate is Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who like Mfume is African American.
Two other prominent Democrats, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, said over the weekend that Sarbanes' retirement would not change their plans to seek the nomination for governor.
Mfume, 56, left the House in 1996 to run the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
He is widely credited with restoring stability to the civil rights organization after a period of internal strife and a multimillion-dollar deficit. By the time Mfume stepped down in November, the NAACP budget was showing a surplus.
Maryland is a strongly Democratic state, and statewide party candidates usually start out with the inside track. But as former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend learned in her 2002 gubernatorial race, being a Democrat does not guarantee victory. She was upset by then-Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.
Many analysts initially gave Ehrlich little chance of winning. "But it became very clear early on that Townsend didn't perform well," and all bets were off, Rothenberg said.
Still, he said, "I don't think the Republicans have much of a chance of winning this race."
Derek Walker, state Democratic Party spokesman, said he was not concerned about the prospect of a spirited race among some of Maryland's most prominent Democrats.
"I look at it as a great moment of opportunity," he said in a telephone interview. "We have an incredible wealth of talent and experience, and you're not going to see savage tactics. These are all people who take the high road of politics. We're not going to see a bloodbath."
Associated Press was used in compiling this report.