- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — A visibly angry Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday lashed out at Democratic attempts to tie him to President Bush and national Republicans in the U.S. Senate race, saying that he refuses “to be the whipping boy for or against the Republican Party.”

“You know, I’m tired of this. I’ve got to justify everything the administration does, or everything it doesn’t do. This is not about that,” Mr. Steele told reporters after participating in a forum conducted by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

The Republican Senate nominee noted that his Democratic opponent, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, “mentioned the president 113 times” during their debate last week.

“If he wanted to run against George Bush, he should have done it two years ago,” said Mr. Steele, who began airing a TV ad this week that criticizes both parties.

Mr. Cardin and Mr. Steele took part in a forum that had been billed as a debate. The Senate candidates separately took to the podium, addressed the Chamber of Commerce and answered questions from the audience.

The 10-term congressman from Baltimore talked at length about health care, transportation, and especially his desire to balance the federal budget.

“Mr. Steele talks about changing the direction of America,” said Mr. Cardin, who spoke to the chamber before his Republican rival. “I don’t know how you change the direction of America when you agree with the president on so many issues.”

Democratic ads for Mr. Cardin have linked Mr. Steele to the president and Republican leaders, such as strategist Karl Rove.

Asked if he thinks the general unpopularity of national Republicans will affect his campaign, Mr. Steele said: “I’m not going to stand here and try to be the whipping boy for or against the Republican Party because this is the same nonsense … that keeps this cycle going.

“Let’s move forward,” he said. “You know what’s going to make the difference between my winning this seat and losing this seat? Me. Me. Nothing else. Me. That’s why this is a conversation between me and the people.”

Mr. Steele, who is the first black to win a statewide election in Maryland, said that he is “feeling a pulse and a heartbeat in this state that is not being captured in polls. I’m excited about that.”

Mr. Steele previously had distanced himself from Mr. Bush, saying that his Republican Party affiliation is a “scarlet letter” in Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. But he also has called the president his “homeboy.”

The Democratic strategy of linking Mr. Steele to national Republicans was recommended last spring by a pollster who said that Mr. Steele was a “unique threat” to Democrats’ monopoly on black voters.

Pollster Cornell Belcher identified an “emerging black swing vote” and advised Democrats to turn Mr. Steele “into a typical Republican in the eyes of voters, as opposed to an African-American candidate.”

Recent polls have shown Mr. Cardin leading by an average of 10 points. But cracks have appeared in Democratic unity since Mr. Cardin defeated Kweisi Mfume, past president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in the party’s Senate primary.

Black political, religious and business leaders have said that there is growing grass-roots discontent with the lack of minority leaders in the Democratic Party. They say that some black voters, who are mostly registered Democrats, are going to cross party lines and vote for Mr. Steele.

Mr. Cardin and Mr. Steele have scheduled two debates — Oct. 25 on WJLA-TV (Channel 7) and Oct. 29 on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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