As candidates campaign for Maryland governor’s mansion, overlooking the Black vote would be unwise, experts said, as that bloc historically has made the difference in the state’s election outcomes.

“The Black vote is something you can’t take for granted,” said Larry Gibson, a longtime campaign advisor and political operative.

That point was driven home during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections when Black voters—who many pundits had dismissed as apathetic and disillusioned—turned out to the polls in record numbers and proved instrumental in ushering Barack Obama into the White House with resounding victories.

The same can be true in Maryland. Comprising about one-fourth of the state’s electorate, African-American voters have the political heft to swing an election—usually in the Democrat’s favor since Blacks vote overwhelmingly Democrat.

“I don’t know when we’ve had a recent election in which Democrats got a majority of the White vote. The White vote has gone for the Republican Party from the Glendening election through Ehrlich…. So when a Democratic governor wins in this state, it’s largely because of Black voters,” Gibson said.

And yet, Black voters historically have been written off or ignored—by Republican candidates, who figure they don’t need African Americans, who likely won’t vote for them anyway; and by Democrats, who see Black voters as guaranteed supporters that don’t need extra courting.

Maryland Voters. (AP Photo)

“This election is a perfect example of when the African-American community’s votes are going to be needed to decide the election and are right now being taken for granted,” said Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, a Baltimore City-based elections specialist and community activist.

Just 9 percentage points currently separate Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) and his Republican challenger Larry Hogan, according to recent polls.

The GOP nominee has been making forays into the Black community—addressing students at the historically Black Bowie State University and canvassing West Baltimore streets, where he discusses issues that directly affect African Americans such as high unemployment, economic empowerment and high taxes.

On the other hand, observers say, Brown—an African American—is careful not to appear as if he is wooing the Black vote. While Brown campaigns before African-American audiences, he sidesteps discussions about targeted plans for addressing Black concerns—like Obama, he takes the “rising tide lifts all boats” approach. And he also avoids promoting the historic potential of his candidacy—if elected, he will be Maryland’s first Black governor and the third African American elected to such office since Reconstruction.

But that’s a mistake on Brown’s part, experts said.

“In order for the Democratic candidate to win, he’s going to need a significant percentage of the African-American vote, but I have not seen any major emphasis on courting these voters,” Cheatham said. “The assumption is that African-American voters will be like cattle and be expected to follow each other to the polls and vote for the Democrat with no reassurances and promises being made.”

Gibson said it is unlikely Hogan’s efforts will cause Black voters to abandon the Democratic candidate en masse to support the Republican candidate.

“Black people have a whole lot of reasons to be angry and fearful of a Republican governor,” he said, citing Republican-led efforts to undermine voting rights.

But, if Brown does not try to energize Black voters, Gibson added, they may not turn out on Election Day and give him the necessary numbers to defeat his opponent.

“Anybody who’s campaigning ought to work hard to get their base out,” he said.

Assumptions about Black voters have proven detrimental to gubernatorial campaigns in the past.

In the 1994 gubernatorial runoff, many had called the election for Republican Ellen Sauerbrey. But, Black voters in Baltimore eventually delivered the victory to Democrat Parris Glendening.

Sauerbrey, who lost by 5,993 votes, challenged the results in court, claiming widespread voting by supposedly dead African Americans in Baltimore. But the campaign lacked evidence and a judge rejected the claim.

Cheatham, a Baltimore elections official at the time, said the outcome was not a result of fraud, despite Sauerbrey’s allegations, but reflected the difference in outreach to Black voters.

“Glendening did come into the community and he had a relationship ,” he said, “but the Sauerbrey camp basically disregarded the Black vote completely.”

Conversely, Cheatham said, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost to Robert Ehrlich in 2002 because she gave short shrift to her African-American base.

“That was one of the worst campaigns run by a gubernatorial candidate that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said the former Baltimore NAACP president. “That was a clear case: the Black vote was taken for granted and a lot of Blacks did not turn out and that’s how Ehrlich got in.

“Ehrlich campaigned hard…. We actually saw Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.”