- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele says he is seeking a consulting role in the 2008 presidential election, aiming to help the Republican Party reach minority voters.

“I’d like to have a hand in helping our presidential nominee … get the messaging right, to communicate not just with traditional voters, but to go outside our comfort zone,” Mr. Steele, 48, told The Washington Times.

He said he has spoken with each of the top Republicans considering a run for the White House, mentioning by name Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

“I like them all so far,” said Mr. Steele, a Republican. “I’ve got to figure out who I like the best and figure out who I think would be the next president of the United States. I want to make relevant the party of Lincoln and re-establish a relationship in my community, the black community, that has been severed for 40 years.”

Mr. Steele, who in 2002 became the first black to win a statewide election in Maryland, leaves office Jan. 17. His successor will be Delegate Anthony G. Brown, a black Democrat from Prince George’s County.

Forgoing a re-election bid with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Mr. Steele last month lost a run for the U.S. Senate. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Baltimore Democrat, will succeed Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat who is retiring.

Mr. Steele was noncommittal about whether he will run for elected office again, saying he wants to keep his options open. He reiterated that he might be interested in running for governor in 2010.

“I’m open to everything,” he said. “Everything’s on the table.”

Meanwhile, he indicated that he will join or begin next month a business and political consulting venture that could be used as a platform for his involvement with the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

“I want the flexibility to be able to push the envelope nationally and here in Maryland,” Mr. Steele said.

He said that he has sifted and analyzed the data of his November loss “like a fine wine” over the past six weeks and still believes he was defeated by a national mood that swept Republicans out of power in Congress.

“Despite the acclamations and cries of ‘mandate’ from my Democrat friends, the reality is much closer to the American people and Marylanders taking out their frustration and their anger, their concerns and their doubts, on Republican candidates across the country and certainly here in our state,” he said.

In addition, postelection rumors that he might be named to head the Republican National Committee originated with the national party’s grass roots, Mr. Steele said.

“That surprised me as much as it probably surprised the White House,” he said, adding that several state party chairmen began calling him in the hours after his election defeat to express their support for his presumed RNC chairmanship.

Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican, has been named to the post by President Bush.

In his run for the Senate, Mr. Steele challenged black voters’ loyalty to the state Democratic Party.

Moreover, prominent blacks such as hip-hop music mogul Russell Simmons and Radio One founder Cathy Hughes supported his candidacy, as did all five black members of the Prince George’s County Council and former County Executive Wayne K. Curry, all Democrats.

Mr. Steele said he did not think his blunt criticism of the president took him out of the running for the RNC post or for a chance to be named labor secretary.

He recently spoke to Mr. Bush at a White House Christmas party, and the president was “very kind,” the lieutenant governor said.

“The president understands that I’m an independent guy,” Mr. Steele said.

Mr. Ehrlich gave Mr. Steele wide latitude as lieutenant governor, and Mr. Steele used the post to visit municipalities around the state, which helped him gain statewide exposure.

Nonetheless, critics faulted him for never releasing the results of a study he conducted on the fairness of the death penalty’s application in Maryland.

Mr. Steele said the Republican Party’s greatest failing has been lackluster communication of what he says are still valid ideas and principles.

“There was not a repudiation of the party and its ideals and the things we stand for as much as it was a frustration that the electorate had and exercised,” he said. “We have a story to tell. We just dropped the ball in telling it.”

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