- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele rallied the state’s Republican leaders and foot soldiers yesterday, telling them not to believe the “lies” from the Democrats and Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration.

Mr. Steele made his comments before about 100 activists at the annual state Republican Party convention after Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, on Thursday blamed former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, for the state’s $1.4 billion deficit.

“Don’t let them get away with the lies — on the budget, on the economy. They’d act as if Ehrlich-Steele never existed, and to the extent it did, anything they can’t handle is our fault,” Mr. Steele said. “That’s not how it works, folks.”

Mr. Steele used his 38-minute address to urge state Republicans to return to the core values of the “party of Lincoln” and build toward 2010.

Maryland Republicans lost the governor’s office, six seats in the House and Mr. Steele’s race for the U.S. Senate in November. The state party has also been wracked by financial problems, opening a $100,000 line of credit to cover daily operating costs.

Mr. Steele said the state party is in the similar position it faced in 1998 after Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey’s second loss to former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

“This is a 1998 moment for us. … There was a lot of confusion there,” Mr. Steele said. “Over the next four years, we went from a party in the desert to a party in power.”

Party activists said they were heartened by Mr. Steele’s speech.

“I think they needed to hear a strong voice. I think Mr. Steele echoed that today,” said Joan Harris, a Republican activist and vice president of Citizens for Jessica’s Law in Maryland, an organization that advocates tougher sex-offender laws. Miss Harris was selected Grassroots Activist of the Year at the convention.

“Perseverance is the key to getting the party back on track,” she said.

Many Republicans at the convention encouraged state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican, to mount a primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, Eastern Shore Republican. Mr. Harris’ supporters wore yellow-and-green T-shirts and stickers with the slogan: “Run Andy Run.”

“We’re about ready to take the next step,” Mr. Harris said. “I think there was a lot of support at the convention for someone offering an alternative to Mr. Gilchrest.”

State party staffers said they were happy with the turnout and glad to have Mr. Steele rallying the troops.

“It was a great convention, very unifying, and everyone really focused on what lies ahead,” said John Flynn, Maryland Republican Party executive director. “Mr. Steele is a rock star in the Republican Party, and he really knew how to energize the team.”

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