- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin this morning met in an hour-long, nationally televised debate on “Meet the Press,” nine days before voters elect one to the U.S. Senate.

In a contest that could be decided by Maryland’s black Democratic voting bloc, the issue of race was not raised or mentioned by host Tim Russert.

Mr. Steele, a Republican from Prince George’s, who in 2002 became the first black person elected to statewide office, criticized Mr. Cardin, a 10-term Democratic congressman from Baltimore, for representing an “old Washington” mindset.

Mr. Steele also criticized his own party, saying the Republican-controlled Congress has “lost its mind” on spending, and that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld “did not give the President the kind of strategy he needed to win this war [in Iraq].”

“He wouldn’t be my secretary of defense,” Mr. Steele said.

Mr. Cardin charged that Mr. Steele did not answer host Tim Russert’s questions on the war in Iraq, abortion, and judicial nominees.

“You have no plan” on Iraq, Mr. Cardin told Mr. Steele.

Mr. Cardin said the war in Iraq is “not a war on terror,” but instead “is a civil war.” Mr. Cardin denied that he has ever called for a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq, though he has said “it is reasonable” to expect all U.S. troops out by the end of 2007.

“I want to bring them home,” Mr. Cardin said.

Mr. Russert, known for his precise and tough questions, kept the debate tightly focused on Iraq, Mr. Steele’s allegiance to President Bush, stem cell research, abortion, and judicial nominees.

Mr. Steele said afterward he wanted to talk about the issue of racism.

“I would have liked to spent a little more time on an attitude in this campaign, where race has come into play, the ugliness that we’ve seen, the name-calling, [House Minority Whip] Steny Hoyer calling me a slave, and a token a few years ago, and Esquire Magazine calling me a lawn-jockey,” Mr. Steele said.

Mr. Cardin, when asked about the issue of race afterward, said, “My message to the African-American community is that we have to change the priorities in Maryland.”

A Washington Post poll released today showed Mr. Cardin up on Mr. Steele by 11 points. However, two polls in the last week have shown the race to be a dead heat, and the Cook Politicial Report on Friday switched the race from a likely Democratic retention to a toss up.

Mr. Cardin and Mr. Steele are vying to replace retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Democrat.

Mr. Steele’s campaign has focused on winning over black Democrats, who make up about 40 percent of Maryland’s Democratic majority. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland two-to-one.

Yesterday, Mr. Steele continued to criticize Mr. Cardin and the Democratic Party for failing black voters.

“I’m tired of hearing people quote statistics of our communities and over the 20 years that they have served in Congress have done nothing,” Mr. Steele said at the statewide NAACP conference in Baltimore. “I’m tired of leadership that fails to lead, but blames and name calls and points fingers.”

Mr. Cardin, a 10-term congressman, also spoke at the conference, telling The Washington Times the criticism would not stick to his campaign.

“My record speaks for itself,” Mr. Cardin said.

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