- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday announced the formation of an exploratory committee for his run for the U.S. Senate.

“This is an opportunity to really go out and make a difference that is important for Maryland families and is important for our communities,” Mr. Steele, a Republican, said in a conference call with reporters.

He said the effort would last several months and focus on listening to Marylanders, identifying priorities and gauging support for his candidacy.

However, the lieutenant governor expressed confidence he could raise enough money for a campaign and win the support of crossover voters, who would be essential for a Republican seeking victory in a state with nearly twice as many registered Democrats.

“That [ability to fundraise] is one more sign of Maryland’s growing strength of becoming a full-blown, two-party system, and I think that is healthy,” he said.

Mr. Steele’s announcementenergized state and national Republican Party leaders who have pressured him to run since U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in March declared his pending retirement.

“Our phones are ringing off the hook,” said Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party. “[Mr. Steele] is receiving a lot of support. … We are extremely encouraged, and we will do all we can to encourage him to enter the race.”

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s election as governor with Mr. Steele as lieutenant governor in 2002 made the two men the first Republicans to hold those offices in Maryland in more than 30 years. The state has not had a Republican senator since 1987.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said the governor “fully supports” Mr. Steele’s deliberations about a Senate run. The governor also thinks Mr. Steele could win the race, she said.

“Given the [political] climate in Maryland, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Miss DeLeaver said.

Mr. Steele, the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland, achieved national prominence after his prime-time speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

His political rise, from a post on the Prince George’s County Republican Central Committee to lieutenant governor, took less than 10 years. Mr. Steele said he did not plan his political trajectory but seized the opportunities presented to him.

“I certainly never thought that I would be lieutenant governor of the state of Maryland, but the opportunity presented itself,” he said. “Now, a new opportunity has presented itself, and I am ready to stand up and meet that challenge. …”

Mr. Steele is not expected to face a primary challenger if he enters the race.

Democrats who have announced their candidacies are U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, socialist activist A. Robert Kaufman and Kweisi Mfume, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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