- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin yesterday wrangled over the origins of their U.S. Senate campaigns, with each accusing the other of being “handpicked” by their parties’ leaders.

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

Mr. Steele, 48, said that Mr. Cardin “has been running against George Bush for a year and a half. …”

“You talk about handpicked,” Mr. Steele, a Republican, told Mr. Cardin. “You were handpicked by [House Democratic Whip] Steny Hoyer to get in this race. …”

“If you weren’t [handpicked], Kweisi Mfume should’ve been sitting here,” he added, referring to the past president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who lost the Democratic primary to Mr. Cardin last month.

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

The debate at NewsChannel 8 studios in Rosslyn, which included Green Party nominee Kevin Zeese, was the first of three between Mr. Steele and Mr. Cardin that will culminate Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The war in Iraq, embryonic stem-cell research and mass transit were other dominant issues in the debate.

When pressed, Mr. Steele said that U.S. forces should have invaded Iraq in 2003 “to deal with the terrorist threat.”

Mr. Cardin, 63, voted against sending troops to Iraq, but Mr. Zeese attacked Mr. Cardin for voting several times to finance the war.

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

Mr. Cardin also appeared unaware of exactly where Metro plans to begin and end the Purple Line, which Mr. Steele used to portray him as out of touch.

Mr. Steele reiterated his support for stem-cell research using adult stem cells and his opposition to embryonic research, which he considers abortion. Mr. Cardin said he supports embryonic research.

After the debate, Mr. Cardin complained that the open format allowed too many interruptions.

At one point, Mr. Steele, sitting next to Mr. Cardin, said the 10-term congressman had failed as a leader. “For 20 years, sir, you have sat in the [congressional] seat and wasted the opportunity to lead,” he said.

Mr. Steele, who is black, is hoping for support from black voters, especially in Prince George’s County and Baltimore.

Though Mr. Cardin, who is white, won the overall primary, Mr. Mfume bested him in those two jurisdictions. According to the State Board of Elections, Mr. Mfume won 74,637 votes, and Mr. Cardin 19,824 in Prince George’s County. In Baltimore, Mr. Mfume won 52,335 votes and Mr. Cardin 25,051.

Since then, Mr. Mfume has made only one appearance in support of Mr. Cardin, during which he noted the lack of diversity in the Maryland Democratic ticket.

During the primary season, Mr. Mfume accused Mr. Hoyer and state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., both of whom are white, of trying to force him out of the contest.

The Senate nominees are scheduled to debate today in Charles County, where five white men in 2004 set fire to more than two dozen homes owned mostly by black families in the state’s biggest residential arson case.

“I specifically asked for [the debate] to be there,” Mr. Steele told reporters and editors at The Washington Times on Monday.

Meanwhile, two polls yesterday provided different pictures of the race.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee released a poll showing the race to be a dead heat. Mr. Cardin had 41.3 percent of the vote, and Mr. Steele 38.7 percent.

The poll of 602 likely voters was conducted by Houston-based Voter Consumer Research and has a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.

A poll by the District-based Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group showed Mr. Cardin with 52 percent of the vote and Mr. Steele with 40 percent.

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