- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele would run a close race against any of three prominent Democrats to fill Maryland’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2006, a new poll shows.

In a matchup against Mr. Steele, U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin would fare better than former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, edging Mr. Steele by four percentage points. Against the other two Democrats, Mr. Steele, a Republican, was in a statistical tie in the telephone poll conducted April 11 to 13 by Potomac Survey Research for the Baltimore Sun.

“He’s a political force to be reckoned with,” Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research, said of Mr. Steele. “You’re looking at him against the most-known Democratic leaders, and he’s still going toe-to-toe against them at this point.”

If the Democratic primary were held now, the poll shows Mr. Mfume would have a narrow lead over Mr. Cardin and a large edge over Mr. Van Hollen.

Mr. Mfume is the only major candidate who has declared for the opening created by Democrat Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes’ decision not to seek another term. But Mr. Cardin, whose district straddles the Baltimore city-Baltimore County line, and Mr. Van Hollen, of Montgomery County, have made clear their interest.

Steele spokeswoman Reagan Hopper said the lieutenant governor is considering the race seriously but hasn’t made a decision.

The poll sampled 1,000 likely voters and has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points. Questions about the Democratic primary for Senate are based on a smaller sample and have a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

Unlike Mr. Mfume and Mr. Van Hollen, Mr. Cardin has a strong base of support in the suburban Baltimore communities that were key to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s victory and make up the heart of Mr. Steele’s base, the poll shows.

Mr. Cardin has a 15-point lead in the poll against Mr. Steele in Baltimore County, a voter-rich jurisdiction where the lieutenant governor trounces the other Democratic candidates. Mr. Cardin also is competitive in the Steele-friendly jurisdictions of Anne Arundel and Howard counties, parts of which he also represents in Congress.

Mr. Mfume, who polled at 32 percent in the primary matchup compared with 26 percent for Mr. Cardin and 16 percent for Mr. Van Hollen, has a strong base in the state’s two majority black jurisdictions, Prince George’s County and Baltimore. Mr. Mfume is black; Mr. Cardin and Mr. Van Hollen are white.

Although he has been out of public office for nearly a decade, Mr. Mfume’s years in Congress, time as head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and former career as a television host make his name as well recognized statewide as Mr. Steele’s.

Although Mr. Steele is the first black person to hold statewide elected office in Maryland and the most prominent black Republican in the state, his base of support is the same as that of Mr. Ehrlich and other members of his party who have run statewide. Mr. Steele does well in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties and in rural parts of the state, while faring more poorly in the city of Baltimore and the Washington suburbs, including his native Prince George’s County.

He generally fares no better with black voters than does Mr. Ehrlich. In a two-way race, Mr. Mfume would beat Mr. Steele among black voters by 66 points, the poll shows. Mr. Cardin would beat Mr. Steele among blacks by 41 points.

Of the three Democrats who have expressed the strongest interest in the race, the poll shows Mr. Van Hollen with the most difficult path to a seat in the U.S. Senate. He is the least known of the three, and the poll shows he has little support outside the Washington suburbs.

In a matchup with Mr. Steele, he does much worse than the other Democrats among black voters and in the city of Baltimore, factors that would make it hard for him to win statewide.

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