And He’s Not Even a Candidate

Maryland’s Republican Lt. Governor Michael Steele is under fire from Democrats for holding a fund raiser featuring embattled White House adviser Karl Rove. Steele, an undeclared but anticipated candidate in Maryland’s 2006 Senate race, hosted a $1,000-a-plate dinner Tuesday evening on Capitol Hill, intended to introduce him to big Republican party donors. The protesters, coordinated by liberal advocacy group Progressive Maryland, said that Steele’s association with Rove, who is at the center of the Valerie Plame controversy, makes him an unfit candidate to represent Maryland in the Senate. Democrats also charge that Steele’s (potential) candidacy is being orchestrated by the GOP inside-the-Beltway elite rather than resulting from grassroots support in Maryland for Steele or from actual ambition on Steele’s part.

To this Republican, the idea that Rove’s presence taints Steele in any way sounds rather silly. But, you have to remember that Maryland is about as blue as it gets politically. Governor Bob Ehrlich and Michael Steele are the first statewide Republican officeholders since the 1960s, and the Democrats are none too happy about it. Steele also represents the Republicans’ best chance to pick up a Maryland Senate seat since its last uncontested race in 1986. Naturally, the Democrats will then use any means necessary to smear Steele, even something silly like this more than a year out. It may just work too. Lest we forget, John Kerry trounced President Bush in Maryland last year by 13 points, one of his best showings.

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