- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Maryland’s three U.S. Senate candidates, appearing in an open format that allowed confrontation and disagreement, clashed in their second debate today.

“For 20 years, sir, you have sat in the seat and wasted the opportunity to lead,” said Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, Republican, to Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat, a 10-term congressman.

Mr. Cardin, visibly irritated by such assertions and by interruptions from Mr. Steele and Green Party candidate Kevin Zeese, repeatedly tried to tie Mr. Steele to President Bush.

“The lieutenant governor was recruited by George Bush. George Bush helped finance his campaign,” Mr. Cardin said.

Mr. Steele said in response that Mr. Cardin “has been running against George Bush for a year-and-a-half” and turned the accusation on Mr. Cardin.

“You talk about handpicked. You were handpicked by Steny Hoyer to get in this race,” Mr. Steele said, referring to the minority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives, Mr. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat.

“If you weren’t [handpicked], Kweisi Mfume should’ve been sitting here,” Mr. Steele said.

Mr. Cardin defeated Mr. Mfume, past president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in the primary.

“I won a competitive primary,” Mr. Cardin said. “Kweisi Mfume is supporting me.”

The two candidates clashed on the war in Iraq, stem cell research and mass transit.

Mr. Steele was pressed to answer whether it was the right decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Mr. Cardin voted against sending U.S. troops to Iraq.

“Yes we should have [invaded], to deal with the terrorist threat,” Mr. Steele said.

But Mr. Zeese attacked Mr. Cardin on his record since voting against the war, since Mr. Cardin has voted to finance the war several times.

“After your first vote, you have been wrong, wrong, wrong,” Mr. Zeese said.

Mr. Zeese also accused Mr. Cardin of not reading legislation before he votes on it.

“It’s evident you probably don’t,” Mr. Zeese said.

“Can you read 3,000 pages one hour before a vote?” Mr. Cardin said.

During one exchange between Mr. Cardin and Mr. Zeese, Mr. Steele sat back in his chair and smiled.

Mr. Cardin also appeared unaware of exactly where Metro’s plan to build a Purple line will begin and end.

Mr. Steele and NewsChannel 8 reporter Bruce DePuyt both pressed Mr. Cardin, but he could not answer. Mr. Cardin also could not answer the question when pressed by reporters afterwards.

The Purple line would run from Bethesda to Silver Spring, and then possibly on to College Park and New Carollton.

Afterwards, Mr. Cardin complained about the debate format.

“The number of interruptions in this debate was not balanced,” Mr. Cardin said.

Mr. Steele left the studios without taking questions from reporters.

Today’s debate was the first of three debates this week, which will culminate in a national television faceoff Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

A new poll released today showed the race is a dead heat. Mr. Cardin had 41.3 percent to Mr. Steele’s 38.7 percent, with a 3.9 percent margin of error.

The poll 602 likely voters was conducted by Houston-based Voter Consumer Research and paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Mr. Zeese had 4 percent in the poll.

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