- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

U.S. Sen. John McCain is scheduled to headline a fundraiser in Baltimore tonight for Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s campaign for the U.S. Senate.

“Michael Steele is undoubtedly a new kind of leader from Maryland,” said Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican and potential presidential candidate in 2008. “He is an independent thinker who has a proven ability to reach across party lines and bring people together — and that’s exactly what Washington needs right now.”

The invitation-only fundraiser, which will be held at an undisclosed location in Baltimore, will be closed to the press. The Steele campaign did not say how many people are expected to attend or how much money is expected to be raised.

Both Mr. Steele and Mr. McCain stand to gain from the event, political leaders said.

Mr. Steele, the first black to win statewide office in Maryland, is a rising star among conservative Republicans, and state Democrats have tried to tie him to the Bush administration and President Bush’s low poll numbers.

Mr. McCain, who challenged Mr. Bush for the nomination in 2000, has enjoyed wide popularity for his independent stances and has sought to shore up his support among party conservatives.

“I think it’s great,” state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, said of the fundraiser. “McCain is a moderate, a war hero, and I think anybody, Democrat or Republican, would be proud to have a function in conjunction with Senator McCain.”

State Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore Republican, said Democrats have tried “to paint Michael Steele as a Bush clone.

“Well, John McCain is no Bush clone, and the fact that he’s coming and supporting Michael Steele shows that he feels that Michael Steele is a candidate running on his own,” Mr. Harris said.

But a spokesman for Kweisi Mfume, the former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat, called Mr. Steele and Mr. McCain “chameleonlike characters.”

“They change their political hue whenever it suits them,” Mfume spokesman Mark Clack said.

Mr. Steele “wants to portray himself as an outsider, but he’s also trolling for money in the heart of the GOP beast,” Mr. Clack said. “Now you have John McCain, who seems to be moving back towards the GOP base.”

A spokesman for Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 10-term congressman and the Democratic front-runner for the Senate, did not return calls seeking comment.

Mr. Steele, Mr. Mfume and Mr. Cardin are vying for the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who is retiring.

In a new Internet commercial, Mr. Steele criticizes a Washington culture of “congressmen on the take and lobbyists eager to make a deal.”

He says he wants “to shake things up. If we are going to get a different kind of government, we have to elect a different kind of senator — somebody who will talk straight about what is wrong in both parties.”

Mr. Steele is aiming to attract Democratic voters, who outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in Maryland, and he has criticized the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina.

He has said a scheduling conflict kept him from a May 31 fundraiser for the state Republican Party featuring Mr. Bush.

An internal Democratic poll in March said the key to beating Mr. Steele is to “knock [him] down” and turn him “into a typical Republican in the eyes of voters, as opposed to an African-American candidate.”

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