Democrats Dismiss Steele's Puppy Commercial

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Boston terrier that has figured so prominently in Republican Michael S. Steele's television ad campaign reappeared yesterday in dueling commercials for Maryland's high-profile U.S. Senate contest.

Democrats began airing an ad that called such puppy talk a diversion from Steele's relationship with President Bush and his position on issues such as abortion and stem cell research. Steele, and the growling puppy, were on the air hours later, decrying the Democratic spot as the work of Washington insiders, particularly his Democratic opponent, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D).

The ad, released by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is a direct jab at Steele's much-talked-about spot that cast the lieutenant governor as a different kind of politician. In that ad, Steele, looking more like a talk show host than a politician, warns viewers of forthcoming negative ads:

"Grainy pictures and spooky music saying, 'Steele hates puppies' -- and worse. For the record, I love puppies," Steele says, puppy in hand. "And I think you deserve better -- some real ideas for change."

The Democratic response pokes fun at that approach. "It's nice that Steele likes puppies, but he's running for the United States Senate, and it's important to know where he stands on the issues."

The screen repeatedly flashes a photo of Steele and Bush shoulder to shoulder as the announcer tells viewers that Steele supports the Iraq war, opposes abortion and backed the president's decision to veto a bill that would have increased federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

"Michael Steele: He likes puppies, but he loves George Bush," the announcer concludes as the photo of Steele and Bush is framed in a heart.

The effort to link the Republican candidate to the unpopular president is echoed in contests across the country and in Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's challenge to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

In a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans in voter registration by nearly 2 to 1, Steele has consistently played down his party affiliation and support from the White House. He held a rally for Democratic supporters last week in Baltimore and unveiled signs with the logo "Steele Democrat."

Steele's quick retort yesterday labels the Democratic spots as "nasty ads from the Washington crowd." He brings back the puppy, which growls in agreement.

The 30-second ad mentions Cardin by name, along with his photo, as Steele talks about what he says are "real differences":

Steele says he wants to legalize the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, while Cardin voted against such a measure in Congress. He points out that Cardin has raised campaign cash from special interests, including pharmaceutical companies. Steele goes on to say that he would ban lawmakers from accepting gifts from lobbyists -- although he doesn't address campaign contributions.

"Want more of the same? I'm not your candidate," Steele says. "But if you're ready for change, then I'm your man."

Oren Shur, a spokesman for Cardin, called the assertions in the ad "blatantly hypocritical," noting that the Ehrlich administration did nothing to support Democratic efforts to import Canadian drugs and that Steele has taken gifts from lobbyists.

Both Cardin and Steele have raised campaign money from drug companies and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from political action committees. Steele's fundraising efforts have also been helped by "Team Steele," a group of lobbyists assigned to bundle PAC contributions.

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