The surprise announcement last week by Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland that he would not seek re-election in 2006 after serving longer (30 years) than any other senator in the state history has fueled Republican hopes of picking up his seat next year.
Although the Free State has not elected a Republican senator since the liberal Charles “Mac” Mathias (who served from 1969-87), and has not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1984, many Maryland Republicans believe there is at least a chance their state could elect a real conservative to succeed arch-liberal Sarbanes.
It looks as though several serious Democratic candidates could compete for their party’s nomination, including the far-left former NAACP President Kweise Mfume. That could spark a long and divisive primary campaign. By contrast, Republicans could well unite behind one formidable candidate.
The potential candidate that many Republicans are talking about has already demonstrated he can win statewide: Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, one of only two African-American Republicans to hold the second-highest office in a state.
A lawyer and former state party chairman, Steele made headlines nationwide in 2002 when he was elected on the ticket headed by then-Rep. Bob Ehrlich, who became Maryland’s first Republican governor since Spiro Agnew in 1966. Interestingly, while Ehrlich is pro-choice on abortion, Steele is unabashedly pro-life. As lieutenant governor, Steele has been a prominent participant in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. He has also focused on promoting Ehrlich’s no-more-taxes agenda in the Democrat-controlled state legislature.
Steele has become one of his party’s most in-demand speakers. Last year, he gave a much-praised address at the Republican National Convention. His scheduled appearance at the Reagan Dinner of the Prince William County (Va.) Republican Party in April “is helping us draw a full house,” says local party activist Heidi Stirrup.
Steele declined overtures by national Republicans to take on Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski last year. Before Sarbanes announced that he was retiring, Steele had signaled that he intended to seek re-election as lieutenant governor and then run for governor in 2010, when Ehrlich would be term-limited out. A source close to Steele, however, told HUMAN EVENTS last week, “Michael is at least considering the Senate race this time.”
Should he become the nominee and end up facing the far-left Mfume, Maryland would host only the second Senate race in history in which both major party nominees were African-American.
Baltimore-area Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger unveiled an exploratory committee for the Senate last week, and at least one Washington-area Democratic House member is expected to unveil a similar committee soon.