- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele declared his candidacy yesterday for the U.S. Senate and vowed to bridge the racial, political and economic divides that he said afflict the state and the Washington establishment.

“It is time to heal our divisions. It is time to empower people, instead of government. It is time to change the culture of our nation’s capital,” said Mr. Steele, a Republican. “And that’s why I am certain it is time for me to run for the United States Senate.”

Mr. Steele, a Prince George’s County native and first black elected to statewide office in Maryland, made the announcement in a speech to hundreds of supporters in Novak Field House at Prince George’s Community College.

“The gap between Washington and our families is real. The disconnect between elected leadership and the people is real,” he said. “The need for a new bridge is real — a bridge that not only brings both parties together but, more importantly, brings all of us closer to one another.”

Mr. Steele, 47, said he was going to be that bridge, a metaphor likely to be a theme in his campaign to replace retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat.

Scores of Mr. Steele’s supporters at the event hoisted white placards emblazoned with a drawing of a blue suspension bridge and the slogan: “Bridge of Steele.”

In the speech, Mr. Steele criticized both major political parties for being out of touch with the common man, saying his own party for too long “worried more about prices in the stock market than prices in the corner market.”

Such rhetoric seemed geared toward Democratic voters, who outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1 in Maryland and whose support is essential if Mr. Steele is to win.

Mr. Steele also portrayed himself as a reform-minded outsider to Washington politics, perhaps an attempt to distinguish himself from 10-term Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democratic front-runner in the Senate race.

Mr. Cardin was leading Mr. Steele 47 percent to 38 percent in a statewide poll conducted last week by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies, a nonpartisan polling firm based in Annapolis.

Mr. Cardin, 62, has raised $837,000 in the past three months for his Senate campaign and has $1.5 million in the bank, more than any other candidate in the race, Federal Election Commission reports show.

Though he had not made his plans official, Mr. Steele raised the second largest amount, more than $400,000, with about $350,000 in cash on hand.

Other Democrats in the Senate race are political activist A. Robert Kaufman, American University professor Alan Lichtman, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume and forensic psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren.

Other Republicans vying for the open seat are Thomas J. Hampton of Anne Arundel County, Daniel Muffoletto of Howard County and Corrogan R. Vaughn of Baltimore County.

Mr. Steele immediately became the Republican front-runner yesterday. Republican leaders have long viewed him as the party’s best hope for winning in this heavily Democratic state.

Mr. Steele has attracted national attention as the country’s highest-ranking elected black Republican.

Two former staffers of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) are under investigation for obtaining of Mr. Steele’s credit report while conducting opposition research on him.

The staffers, who resigned last month because of the potentially illegal activity, apparently found Mr. Steele’s Social Security number on court documents and used it to access his credit data.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the District and the FBI are leading the investigation.

Attending Mr. Steele’s announcement were Republican officials and notables including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland first lady Kendel S. Ehrlich and Maryland Republican Party Chairman John Kane.

Some Democratic leaders, including former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry, also attended.

Mr. Curry, who said he was a longtime friend and admirer of Mr. Steele, said the lieutenant governor would attract crossover voters if he delivered a message of opportunity and economic empowerment.

“If Michael is that voice, then he will get support. If he’s not, then he won’t,” Mr. Curry said. “Some people are going to look beyond the label du jour.”

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