- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday sent a letter to Democratic leaders saying that their surveillance of his U.S. Senate campaign “crossed the line” by videotaping his conversation with two mothers of soldiers killed in Iraq.

“The filming of this conversation demonstrates a callous disregard for families who have lost a loved one and is an indefensible invasion of privacy,” Mr. Steele, a Republican, said in the letter.

“A conversation with parents who have lost a loved one in combat is private in nature and has no place in partisan politics, and certainly not in the smear campaign you have waged against me even before I entered the race for United States Senate,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, I have come to expect such ugly, gutter politics from you.”

The letter was addressed to his Democratic opponent, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin; Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean; U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC); and Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman.

Mr. Steele requested that they apologize and take “immediate steps to hold all responsible parties accountable.”

Cardin campaign spokesman Oren Shur said that the staffer who filmed Mr. Steele acted appropriately. “When this staffer was asked to stop filming, he was respectful and put down the camera,” he said.

Mr. Shur said that “tracking” is part of modern campaigning and noted that Mr. Steele’s trackers filmed Mr. Cardin on a family outing last month at the Maryland State Fair.

Arthur Harris, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, called Mr. Steele’s letter a “desperate attempt to avoid talking about issues.”

Mr. Shur and Mr. Harris indicated there would be neither an apology nor punitive action against the staffer.

Mr. Dean and Mr. Schumer did not return calls seeking comment.

The incident occurred Saturday during a homecoming ceremony for the Army National Guard 243rd Engineer Company, which is based in Baltimore.

Mr. Steele attended in his capacity as lieutenant governor and was joined by officials from both parties, including House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

The war in Iraq has been a key issue. Mr. Cardin voted against going to war but voted for funding the conflict. Mr. Steele has expressed support for the U.S. invasion but has criticized the execution of the war plan.

In his letter, Mr. Steele said the videotaping of his conversation at the homecoming event follows a pattern of Democratic smears.

He cited a former Cardin campaign staffer who referred to Mr. Steele, the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland, as an “Oreo” in a recent Web log; a DNC pollster who advised using racially based criticisms to “discredit” Mr. Steele; and the former DSCC researchers who illegally obtained Mr. Steele’s credit report last year.

“This action represents a new low in Maryland politics and has no place in this campaign,” Mr. Steele said in the letter. “Ugly partisan political tricks only work to divide our communities and represent the very type of political behavior voters are sick of.”

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