Democrats called yesterday for Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) to cancel a fundraiser this month featuring Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff under intense scrutiny in the case of a CIA official whose identity was disclosed.
"Michael Steele has to decide whether that is the kind of person who reflects his values and those of Maryland," said Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a Washington-based group. "We urge Michael Steele to do the right thing and cancel his event."
A spokesman for Steele, who is exploring a bid for the U.S. Senate, said the July 26 fundraiser in Washington remains on his schedule. Others allied with Steele laughed off the suggestion.
"Are they afraid he's going to raise too much money?" asked GOP strategist Carol Hirschburg.
News reports in recent days disclosed that Rove discussed the role of CIA official Valerie Plame with a reporter. Rove has said he did not know Plame's name or leak it to anyone. The issue was the subject of a combative White House briefing Monday.
Steele has been heavily courted to run for the Senate seat by national Republicans, and Democrats are hopeful that his association with Rove could tarnish him in a state in which Democrats have nearly a 2-to-1 edge in voter registration.
"Presumably, if he goes through with the fundraiser, he'll have to defend Mr. Rove, which could cause problems down the road," said Jim Jordan, a national Democratic strategist. "If he cancels, it's a tremendous embarrassment for the White House."
Steele's office referred calls to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has guided him through the early stages of the race. Dan Ronayne, a committee official who has been acting as Steele's spokesman, said the Democrats' action "shows that they're very concerned about Michael Steele. I'm sure they'd like him to cancel all his fundraisers."
Brian Nick, a spokesman for the committee, said that Rove has appeared recently on behalf of other Republicans and that he expects Rove will continue to be a major draw. Rove headlined a Richmond fundraiser for the Virginia Republican Party last month that brought in more than $100,000.
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.