- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday introduced the new manager of his U.S. Senate campaign, a man who helped a Republican senator get elected in the heavily Democratic state of Maine.

Michael Leavitt, who served as political director for Sen. Olympia J. Snowe’s 2000 campaign and then worked on her staff, will direct the Steele campaign.

“It is a privilege to join Michael Steele’s team and to help build the strongest grass-roots campaign in Maryland’s history,” Mr. Leavitt said.

Mr. Steele, a Republican, must appeal to a significant number of Maryland Democrats if he is to replace the retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat.

Mr. Leavitt, 33, most recently served as executive director of the Maine Republican Party for one year.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) hired him last month to oversee its statewide efforts in Maryland.

“Being from Maine, which is a blue state, I think he understands … trying to elect candidates that are more suited for a red state,” said Mark Ellis, chairman of the Maine Republican Party.

Of Maryland’s 2.63 million registered voters, nearly two-thirds are Democrats. In Maine, Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 319,000 to 287,000.

Mr. Steele said Mr. Leavitt’s “on-the-ground experience and political know-how will serve as a tremendous asset to my campaign.”

Mr. Leavitt replaces Graham Shafer, a native Marylander and former RNC staffer who left the campaign in late January, citing a need to spend more time with his children.

A few days after Mr. Shafer’s departure was made public, campaign spokesman Lenny Alcivar, another former RNC staffer, also resigned.

Rumors abounded that Mr. Steele’s campaign was suffering from internal dissension between national Republican strategists and members of Mr. Steele’s State House staff.

Sources close to the situation said Mr. Steele’s local staff were trying to prevent a “makeover” of the lieutenant governor by national Republicans.

Mr. Leavitt is neither a local political strategist nor a national Republican staffer.

“He has got a good political sense from the network he has built,” Mr. Ellis said. “He has got a lot of connections with figures in the party.”

Derek Walker, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said, “Someone needs to pull that campaign together.”

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 10-term Democrat, is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in the Senate race and leads Mr. Steele in most polls.

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