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Steele Vows to Link Democrats, GOP

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By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele formally launched his bid for U.S. Senate yesterday, standing on his own for the first time since a successful political partnership with Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. catapulted him to statewide office.

With Gov. Ehrlich (R) sitting in the front row and a crowd of supporters cheering in a Prince George's Community College field house, Steele kicked off what promises to be a bruising 2006 campaign for the seat being vacated by five-term Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D).

Steele delivered a rousing populist speech that never mentioned his Republican Party affiliation and appeared to take swipes at both parties, including the same Washington insiders who urged him to enter the race and financed his exploratory committee.

The first black to win statewide office in Maryland, Steele, 47, promised that he would make history again by being a bridge -- "a bridge of steel" -- between Democrats and Republicans, between Capitol Hill and Main Street.

"A bridge that not only brings both parties together but, more importantly, brings all of us closer to one another," he said.

Steele described Washington as a city in paralysis, where politicians "blame each other for our lack of a long-term energy policy" and where, "for too long, one party worried more about prices in the stock market than prices in the corner market."

It was a pox-on-both-your-houses approach, blaming Democrats for preaching reconciliation "at the same time they practiced division."

If the speech is any indication, Steele's campaign will avoid highlighting his social conservatism and his longtime ties to national Republican politics and politicians -- he is antiabortion, has served on the Republican National Committee's executive committee, and his first fundraiser was headlined by White House adviser Karl Rove.

Instead, Steele gave the first glimpse of the delicate line he will attempt to tread as he seeks to marshal support in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans on voter rolls by a margin of nearly 2 to 1 and where a new poll shows President Bush's support among blacks at just 3 percent.

Republicans are seeing Steele as their best hope in years for a Senate seat. But even among Ehrlich loyalists, there were mixed views about Steele's ability to pull it off.

"He would need a perfect storm," said Richard E. Vatz, a professor at Towson University.

"An uphill battle," said Richard Hug, Ehrlich's chief fundraiser.

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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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