Cardin, Steele Face Off in Contentious Debate

By Matthew Mosk and Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 25, 2006; 5:14 PM

U.S. Senate candidate Benjamin Cardin (D) appeared caught off guard during a freewheeling debate on News Channel 8 this afternoon when his opponent, Republican Michael S. Steele tried to quiz him on the route of the proposed Metro rail Purple Line.

After starting to hazard a guess, sputtering out "Chevy Chase," Cardin snapped, "I'm not going to answer your question," and pushed back at Steele, asking him about national health insurance.

Later, Cardin was asked repeatedly by reporters if he knew the Purple Line route and while he insisted that he did, he refused to risk an answer. "I support the Purple Line," he said, then added, "I'm not sure they've settled on specific sites."

For the record, the line is proposed to run from Bethesda to the New Carrollton Metro Station. The unanswered question, Steele said, was a pointed illustration of how little the Baltimore area congressman knows about suburban Washington issues.

"I appreciate Ben finally locating where Prince George's County is . . . and finally using the words Purple Line," Steele said.

The hour-long debate, which ranged over subjects including stem cell research to the war in Iraq to health insurance reform, at times seemed more of a shouting match. There were no rules, and through much of the sparring, Bruce DePuyt, who hosts the WJLA program "News Talk Live," sat back and let it unfold.

The debate is one of three this week that will pit Cardin against Steele and independent candidate Kevin Zeese. The campaign for Maryland's open Senate seat, which is in its final two week stretch, appears to remain a close contest, with polls showing Cardin leading Steele.

In one segment of the debate, Cardin pressed Steele on his initial support for the Iraq war.

Steele responded by calling it "heartening to see the president move to where the American people have been for some time."

"How would you have voted in Congress if you'd had the chance?" Cardin pressed, adding that he believes Steele would have supported the president.

"Do not disrespect me and tell me what I would have done at the time," Steele replied. He then acknowledged he did support going into Iraq.

DePuyt asked Steele about a recent flap over actor Michael J. Fox's appearance in a campaign ad, in which he urges people to back Cardin because of his support for embryonic stem cell research.

In the spot, Fox showed startling signs of Parkinson's disease, contorting as he spoke.

The host asked Steele what he thought of conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh's suggestion that Fox was "acting" and exaggerating the symptoms of his disease.

Steele called the talk show host's remarks "a little bit over the line," but said he really didn't hear Limbaugh's comments. DePuyt then played the remarks for viewers.

"That's a little more than over the line," Steele said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company