Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said yesterday that Democratic attacks on his U.S. Senate candidacy have not hurt him but have sparked interest in his status as a black Republican.

“I hear it from people who come up to me who are angry themselves. They are sick of it. They are tired of it. It’s like, ‘Why are they coming after you?’ ” Mr. Steele told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

“The commercials that they have run have really not resonated the way I think they thought they would. It is not scaring people away from me. In fact, it is actually drawing them to pay closer attention,” he said.

Mr. Steele expressed support for full congressional voting rights for the District, discussed how his Catholic faith informs his politics and said he expects to win “20 to 25 percent” of the black vote in next month’s election.

He also said that he expects some white voters, including Republicans, will not vote for him because he is black.

“We have factored in in our numbers a percentage drop-off. I’m not silly,” Mr. Steele said. “Is it a concern? Sure it is — like anything.

“Will it be a factor in this race? Absolutely it will. You have to go into this race with your eyes wide open. You can’t sit back and pretend that everybody is going to love you and just vote for you because you are a member of their party or you hold their values.”

He said that all he can do to counter such attitudes is to “just get in your face.”

Mr. Steele’s Democratic opponent — Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin — has declined an invitation to be interviewed at The Times.

The Cardin campaign has focused on tying Mr. Steele to President Bush as part of a Democratic strategy to dampen the lieutenant governor’s appeal among blacks.

Blacks account for about 40 percent of registered Democrats in Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.

A poll targeted at black voters, which was released yesterday by Ariel & Ethan LLC in the political journal Hotline, showed Mr. Steele with 12 percent of the black vote; 23 percent were undecided.

The poll of 400 black registered voters was conducted from Oct. 11 to 13 and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

A Baltimore Sun poll showed Mr. Steele with 23 percent of the black vote; Survey USA has shown him gaining as much as 33 percent of the black vote; and an internal Democratic poll in March showed Mr. Steele with 16 percent.

“We don’t need polls to tell us that a large majority of African-Americans are frustrated with President Bush and the direction he’s taking our nation,” Cardin campaign spokesman Oren Shur said. “Michael Steele will support the same failed Bush policies, and everyone knows it.”

The internal Democratic poll also identified 44 percent of black voters as undecided, calling the bloc an “emerging black swing vote.”

Mr. Steele acknowledged there is still a large segment of black voters who are undecided or conflicted about voting for him because he is a Republican.

“I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing. Whatever I’ve been doing has gotten me to 46-46 [percent in the polls], so I keep doing that,” he said, referring to a recent poll by Survey USA that showed the race to be a dead heat.

Mr. Steele, who was raised in the District and lives in Prince George’s County, said he supports D.C. voting rights.

“I think it’s very important for the citizens of that community to have full representation. I just do,” he said.

Mr. Steele also reiterated that he is a “pro-life Roman Catholic” on abortion, and that although he supports stem-cell research, he does not support such research that destroys human embryos.

However, he said he would not require a “litmus test” of nominees to federal judgeships, saying such tactics do a “disservice” to the nominees and the advise-and-consent process of the U.S. Senate.

“I have no litmus test,” he said, “nor should anyone.”

In addition, Mr. Steele said he prefers that the states settle the issue of same-sex “marriage,” but “should it come to the federal level, then, yes, I would support” a ban on such “marriages.”

In 2002, Mr. Steele became the first black to win a statewide election in Maryland, as the running mate of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who became the state’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years.

Yesterday, Mr. Steele said that he will win his Senate race and that Mr. Ehrlich will win his re-election bid against the Democratic nominee, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. Mr. Steele said “there is no reason” for Maryland voters to “fire” Mr. Ehrlich.

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