- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

Michael Steele won’t debate Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who has declared himself the winner of Tuesday’s Maryland Democratic primary, until Kweisi Mfume concedes the nomination.

“This attempt by Congressman Cardin to anoint himself the nominee is disrespectful to the lieutenant governor’s friend, Kweisi Mfume and, more importantly, disrespectful to Maryland voters,” said Steele spokesman Doug Heye in an e-mailed statement.

For his part, Mr. Mfume, past president of the NAACP and a former congressman, is incommunicado, not only with the press but also with most of his own campaign staff, a source close to the Mfume campaign said today.

“Mr. Mfume has not communicated when or if he will concede,” the source said. “He will probably await the final vote tally before he makes an official concession announcement.”

The state board of elections Web site said today that Mr. Mfume trailed Mr. Cardin by about 20,000 votes, with all but 25 Baltimore City precincts and 5 Anne Arundel County precincts reporting.

But around 40,000 provisional and absentee ballots have not yet been counted, and another source close to Mr. Mfume, who had been in contact with him, said his decision to wait on a concession was “consistent with his principle that every vote counts.”

This all started yesterday, when Mr. Steele sent a letter to Mr. Cardin, as well as Green party candidate Kevin Zeese, “to begin the process of scheduling debates.”

It was a proactive move the day after the primary by Mr. Steele, the first black man elected to statewide office as Maryland’s lieutenant governor in 2002.

Also yesterday, Mr. Steele held his first post-primary event at a barbershop in the primarily black section of Park Heights, a neighborhood in Baltimore that is part of Mr. Cardin’s congressional district and includes a section to the north that is heavily Jewish.

Mr. Steele told the crowd outside, “When I go to the United States Senate, I will represent both sides of Park Heights You’re going with me to Washington.”

Mr. Cardin, who is Jewish, has represented the Park Heights area in the U.S. House for 20 years.

Today, however, Mr. Cardin jabbed back, challenging Mr. Steele to come on the MSNBC cable TV show, “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

“I’m glad that Michael Steele joins me in wanting to debate the issues, so I sincerely hope he accepts this invitation to discuss the major challenges facing our state and nation,” Mr. Cardin said in a press release.

Mr. Cardin said that if Mr. Steele did not accept the offer, then he would go on “Hardball” with the left-leaning Mr. Matthews by himself.

Mr. Heye struck back hours later: “Michael Steele is not sitting around Washington waiting to rush to a TV studio on late notice like Congressman Cardin apparently is.”

Mr. Heye said that Mr. Steele was on his bus tour of Maryland, which was scheduled to be in Chesapeake City at 4 p.m.

“These types of inside the Beltway political games are exactly the kind of Washington politics Michael Steele will change as Maryland’s next senator,” Mr. Heye said. “Michael Steele has instructed his campaign to begin the process of scheduling debates after every vote has been counted — and a winner has been declared.”

— Jon Ward, Maryland correspondent, The Washington Times

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