Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Selling Steele

During the 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Bob Ehrlich presented himself as a nice, pleasant suburbanite. When I watched the 2002 debate at Morgan State, I wondered in what closet his campaign had stashed that guy and why didn't they bring him out again as he was so much more likeable than the drip who showed up a the debate.

I have the same reaction to Steele's advertisements. Steele is a man of few accomplishments who. like Townsend, was plucked out of relative obscurity to serve as lieutenant governor. As lite gov, he headed the Commission on Quality Education which went nowhere. However, Steele did find the time to defend the Ehrlich Administration incoherently as well as attend the 2004 Republican Convention where he lauded President Bush.

Steele's commercials, however, present a smart, cool man I would like to get to know. He isn't into partisanship--he doesn't even bother to mention his partisan affiliation--and wants to reform Washington. His most recent commercial keeps up the light, hip, straight-talking feel of his first one:

Too bad this Steele isn't any more real than the nice suburbanite in Ehrlich's 2002 commercials. While the man on TV promises to curtail the influence of lobbyists and shed light into the dark corners of Washington Steele been happy to accept many donations for lobbyists. Steele's has also tightly embraced the Bush Administration when it suited him, such as at the 2004 Republican Convention when it won him a prime speaking spot or at a 2006 fundraiser where Vice President Cheney spoke.

Michael Steele's campaign is laudably, albeit pragmatically, pursuing African-American voters, a community that Republicans generally write off or pursue more with an eye to attracting moderate white swing voters who value tolerance. However, another of Steele's commercials indicates that he plans to challenge the Democrats fiercely for the African-American vote:

The Democrats made it easier for him to make a play for black voters by nominating Rep. Ben Cardin, who is white, instead of former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who is black and a former head of the NAACP. Regardless of how it came about, it is certainly to the advantage of African Americans to be courted vigorously by both parties--something that has happened far too infrequently--even though I believe that African Americans, and all Marylanders, would be vastly better served by having Ben Cardin in the Senate.

Cardin certainly doesn't intend to cede the black vote to Steele. He is working hard to link Steele to President Bush:

Linking Steele to Bush is a wise strategy because of Bush's approval rating among African Americans is a staggeringly low 12% according to the latest SurveyUSA poll. Still, Steele's campaign is doing surprisingly well--at least as well as that of the incumbent governor who is in the political fight of his life.

It is hard to imagine Maryland electing its first Republican senator since 1980 in a year when a Republican president is so unpopular. Even if Steele is making it a real race, close only counts in horseshoes as the saying goes and Steele still trails Cardin. However, Maryland Democrats better fight hard if they want to be sure that this one doesn't accidentally slip away. It wouldn't hurt if Cardin to add a bit of zing to the methododical planning that won him the primary and has served him so well over his long political career. Maybe Mfume can give him some tips.