- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Hours after U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes announced he would end his service on Capitol Hill, political pundits and observers began discussing would-be successors.

Among those mentioned were Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican, and Kweisi Mfume, a Baltimore native and former NAACP president. The election is 20 months away, but such a race would match two popular black politicians valued by their national parties.

“It would be Hank Aaron against Barry Bonds — without steroids,” Mr. Mfume said, jokingly. “I don’t want to say which one I am.”

Mr. Steele said yesterday that he has not decided whether he will run.

“I’ll be saying a little bit more over the next few weeks,” he said on WBAL Radio. “I’m seriously thinking about it.”

Mr. Steele said he will base the decision on a number of factors, including the wishes of his wife, how a Senate campaign would affect Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s administration and Mr. Ehrlich’s re-election bid.

“We’ll go through that drill-down, and we’ll see what happens,” Mr. Steele said.

Mr. Mfume, who last week announced his bid to succeed Mr. Sarbanes, a Democrat and the longest-serving senator in state history, thinks Mr. Steele will not run. His theory is that Mr. Steele is looking beyond the Senate seat and will keep his job with Mr. Ehrlich so they can run for re-election in 2006, which would set up Mr. Steele to become governor in 2010.

Still, he said, such a match-up would energize voters.

“There never has been any African-American from the state of Maryland to run [for U.S. Senate], and now we have a campaign with at least one and potentially another one,” Mr. Mfume said. “It creates a kind of historic energy and anticipation in a lot of voters.”

Mr. Ehrlich wants to remain as governor, but has pledged to give Mr. Steele his “best advice,” saying he has spoken with national Republican leaders about what campaign scenario would be best for the party.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and head of the candidate-recruiting National Republican Senatorial Committee, also is encouraging Mr. Steele to run, said committee spokesman Brian Nick.

“Absolutely, we hope he runs,” Mr. Nick said. “If you talk in Republican circles around the country, people know who Michael Steele is. He’d be able to raise money on a national basis for this kind of race.”

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