- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

Maryland Democrats are keeping close tabs on the top Republican candidate in the state’s U.S. Senate race, by videotaping Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele’s campaign stops and noting his fundraisers with Bush administration officials.

“God bless them,” Mr. Steele said. “They’re so scared, and I love them for that.”

Derek Walker, executive director of the state’s Democratic Party, said videotaping is a typical campaign tactic and that party members are “learning as much as we can” about Mr. Steele.

“We certainly take Michael Steele seriously,” Mr. Walker said. “And we take George Bush and Karl Rove’s threats of bringing $20 million [in campaign money] into Maryland seriously.”

Mr. Steele, well-aware of Democrats’ presence, began a recent campaign stop by talking about his “following.”

“I know that a lot of people are watching this race very closely, especially the Democrats,” Mr. Steele said.

He spoke directly to a woman in the back of the room who held a small video camera.

“Nice to see you again,” Mr. Steele said. “Doing well? What’s your name because I think I’m going to be seeing you a lot. Was it Jennifer?”

“Yes,” said the woman, who later said she was with the Maryland Democratic Party.

“Give my best to your team,” Mr. Steele responded.

National Democrats also are keeping a close eye on Mr. Steele, who is campaigning to be the first black Maryland Republican in the U.S. Senate. The Democratic Party has a long-standing black voting bloc.

Two Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staffers illegally obtained Mr. Steele’s credit report last year. Both resigned, and one pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor in exchange for a lighter sentence.

The Democrats’ top candidate is Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 10-term Baltimore congressman.

A Rasmussen Reports survey shows Mr. Cardin with 49 percent of the vote and Mr. Steele with 35 percent in a head-to-head contest to succeed retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat who has served five terms.

Last week, Mr. Walker sent out an e-mail that called attention to an April 7 fundraiser for Mr. Steele that Vice President Dick Cheney is expected to attend.

The e-mail quoted Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman saying Mr. Steele should be sent a map “to make sure he gets there. He won’t want to miss what Dick Cheney has to say about how Steele can help advance the Bush/Cheney agenda.”

Mr. Steele has held fundraisers with President Bush and presidential adviser Karl Rove.

Democrats are trying to link Mr. Steele with Mr. Bush’s low approval ratings and to the federal government’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina, which they say shows Republicans’ indifference to blacks.

Mr. Steele acknowledges the administration’s shortcomings but says he has not been in a position to do anything. However, he has vowed to “take the lead on this issue” if elected.

The Cardin campaign sent out a detailed account of Mr. Steele’s fundraisers this month, including one with White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

Mr. Cardin faces a primary challenge from Kweisi Mfume, former chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mr. Cardin has more cash than Mr. Mfume, but three other candidates, including Bethesda businessman Josh Rales, are building war chests and could play a factor.

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