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updated 3/1/2004 3:15:49 PM ET 2004-03-01T20:15:49

Rep. Elijah Cummings says he will chair Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s Maryland campaign as the state heads into its presidential primary next week, an endorsement analysts say could help Kerry win over black voters.

Cummings, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, joins many of the state’s leading Democrats, who united early in the week behind the Democratic front-runner.

The Baltimore congressman’s support could prove critical in a state where blacks comprise almost half the 1.6 million registered Democrats and where a recent poll showed Kerry leading his nearest rival by 7 percentage points, said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The endorsement was especially important because Maryland’s other black congressman, Albert Wynn, supports North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

“Edwards seems to appeal to African-American voters — he talks about his humble, working-class roots, and he took strong positions on civil rights, health and employment, issues that resonate strongly with African-Americans,” Crenson said.

“Kerry has gotten a great deal of black support in the early primaries, but he seems to have much more difficulty connecting with them on a personal level.”

Wynn, who endorsed Edwards in July, said black voters will weigh Edwards’ strong domestic agenda against the perception that Kerry has the best chance to beat President Bush in November.

“Blacks more than any other group want to beat Bush,” Wynn said. “I happen to believe Edwards is the best man for the job. Unfortunately, Kerry has the national press, momentum and the calendar is getting compressed.”

Maryland is one of 10 states holding contests on Super Tuesday. Among them are heavyweights California, Georgia, Minnesota, New York and Ohio. The contests offer 1,151 delegates, more than half of the 2,162 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. Sixty-nine of them are from Maryland.

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