Maryland Republican officials confirmed yesterday that President Bush will host a fundraising luncheon for Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele this month -- the latest high-profile embrace by national GOP luminaries of Steele's U.S. Senate bid.
Republican leaders said the president's first campaign visit to Maryland in the 2006 election cycle could yield significant dollars for the Steele campaign, which officially got underway two weeks ago.
Democrats said the event will bolster their contention that Steele's politics are out of touch with Maryland voters, a majority of whom are Democrats who oppose Bush administration policies.
Steele faced a similar line of attack after his only other publicly announced fundraiser, a smaller affair at the National Republican Committee headquarters hosted by Bush strategist Karl Rove.
"The Bush agenda is anathema to Maryland," said Derek Walker, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party.
"Michael Steele has to choose between two diametric opposites: President Bush and the best interests of the people of Maryland."
Steele is asking attendees to raise $5,000 to pose for a photograph with the president at the Nov. 30 event at Ravens Stadium in Baltimore. Other guests will be charged between $125 and $500.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said that Bush's low approval rating is "having a drag" on his own popularity in Maryland now but that it is no reason for Steele to refuse an opportunity to have the president campaign for him.
"Things can turn around pretty quick when you're president. Or governor," Ehrlich said yesterday. Either way, he added, "it's going to be good for the kitty."
Ehrlich said a Bush visit in October 2002 yielded $1.8 million for his gubernatorial bid.
The president has not committed to any campaign dates for Ehrlich's reelection effort, but first lady Laura Bush held an event for the governor this year.
Steele was traveling in Israel yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
Campaign spokesman Leonardo Alcivar said, "There's no one in Maryland who doesn't expect the lieutenant governor's opposition to use the president's visit for their own political purposes."
He added, "Any candidate should be proud to have the president of the United States standing by their side."