Steele, Cardin Debate Draws Sharp Distinctions
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
BALTIMORE, Oct. 3 -- Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and U.S. Rep. Benjamin Cardin stripped away the niceties and exchanged sharp words Tuesday night in their first debate in the race for the U.S. Senate.
Steele, the Republican, at one point told the Baltimore congressman to "shut up and listen" to the citizens of the state. Cardin unloaded on Steele for failing to address a series of issues while campaigning -- most pointedly, the war in Iraq.
The debate offered the first chance to see the striking contrasts between the two major party candidates vying for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D).
The physical differences between the two, standing on stage in a Gothic 19th-century church building in downtown Baltimore, were impossible to miss -- Steele, 47, 6-foot-4 and looking polished in a designer suit; Cardin, 62, short and a bit portly in standard dark pinstripe, looking every bit the bookish legislative technician.
For Cardin, a chief goal of the debate was to turn the focus away from style and onto substance, where there are also sharp differences between the two that put him more in line with the views of Maryland's large population of Democratic voters.
"It's not about how nice we appear or how we deal with friendliness or how well we listen, because I'm a pretty good listener," Cardin said. "It's about how you are going to represent the interests of the people of Maryland."
In the first remarks of the night, before 300 people, Cardin checked off a long list of positions he has taken: opposing the Iraq war, supporting a minimum wage increase, backing embryonic stem cell research. He urged Steele to address each one, and concluded that his experience on Capitol Hill would put him in the position to "get things done."
"I have been effective when the Democrats controlled Congress and when Republicans have controlled Congress," he said. "As a result, I've changed Washington."
When Steele took his first turn to speak, he tried to turn Cardin's 20 years in Congress and 40 years in elected office against him. The man who took his first elected job in 2002 repeatedly described himself as an agent of change and his opponent as someone who has been on Capitol Hill too long.
"I do not want to go to Washington to retire," Steele said. "I want to go get something done."
The lieutenant governor, seizing the offensive, chided Cardin for not acknowledging the presence of independent candidate Kevin Zeese.
"What you just watched was the problem of Washington," Steele said, stepping out from the podium to face Cardin. "They run their mouths, but they do not listen. After 40 years of service, honorable service, he still has not learned to look around the room and shut up and listen. That was a lesson my mother taught me a long time ago."