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Candidate quote silences procured by
Steele employs strategy of silence
Comments to Jewish council and general policy of staying mum lead critics to wonder if he's ready for Senate
By Jennifer Skalka
February 12, 2006
Steele invokes strategy of silence on big issues
Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele announced his bid for U.S. Senate in October with a promise to be a different kind of candidate, to build bridges between citizens and government and to be a voice for all Marylanders.
Since then, however, with debates raging on a series of national and state issues - including the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice and the revision of minimum-wage laws - Steele has stayed out of the fray.
"I don't need to talk about issues right now," Steele said during a recent interview with The Sun. "I need to establish a relationship with voters."
Steele's strategy of silence faltered last week when he compared embryonic stem cell research to the experiments done by Nazi doctors - a flub that exposed him to harsh criticism, left him struggling to formulate a clear position on a politically vexing issue and led critics to question whether he had sufficient seasoning to ascend to the Senate.
Yesterday, speaking to a WBAL radio talk show host, Steele continued his damage control after saying Thursday to the Baltimore Jewish Council, "You of all folks know what happens when people decide they want to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool."
In his latest comments, he said, "I support embryonic stem cell research," a position that seemed to be at odds with his previous remarks.
He also said, "I don't think scientists who engage in this research are Nazis or criminals," adding that "anyone who would try to raise that specter with me or my words is ignorant and wrong. And I'm hoping the public will see through that."
In a race that has attracted national attention and money, and that could pit him against Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 10-term Democratic congressman, or Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and former leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among others, Steele can't necessarily afford another gaffe. Both Cardin and Mfume have well-defined records and are used to defending them in public.
Until his stem cell comments, Steele, who faces only token opposition in the Republican primary, had taken full advantage of a luxury unavailable to the seven Democrats seeking their party's nomination: virtual silence on matters of consequence. It is a strategy that could serve him well, letting Steele quietly raise money through the long primary season and emerge for the general election with little to defend
A lawyer and former Catholic seminarian, Steele has never been elected to office on his own. He was the state Republican chairman when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. selected him as his running mate in 2002. National party leaders, who gave Steele a featured speaking role at the 2004 Republican convention, have since anointed him as one of their most promising stars.
In two recent cases, when Steele had a chance to take a strong stand on those issues, he declined.
At the end of last year, opponents of the death penalty pressed him to lobby with Ehrlich to forestall an execution, but Steele deferred to the governor and said he would send him a private memo outlining his views.
"If I were a voter, I'd worry about having him in the Senate where these folks are in the business of talking," said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution. "The political smarts of ever using the Holocaust in any context for a politician is just so clearly a no-no that you just truly think, 'Is he ready for prime time?'"
Steele is demonstrating to the entire state why black Marylanders have such contempt for him, his utter lack of character and courage.
The fact that Erlich's people have undercut him as well doesn't help matters.
What people need to realize, that while blacks frame his flaws as centering around loyalty and character, his mistakes will be pounced on.
He doesn't realize that as a black candidate, any mistake he makes will be magnified and any sign that he isn't up to par will be ripped apart, even againy Mfume, he would be grilled. His handlers think there's a level playing field and there isn't anything close.
Steele will be attacked by black pols at the slightest mistake. No one will rally around him they would an Mfume or a Wynn. That lack of support causes doubt among moderate whites. His use of the Holocaust was a mistake a seasoned pol would have a hard time with, his retreat makes him looks weak and vaciliating. If Cardin can get him in a debate and seize on that, he's done.
Steele's worst problem is a refusal to challenge people. He backs down and plays down controversy. Erlich's people are NOT helping him and he doesn't see that. They could have mitigated much of that mess and chose not to.
By the time he realizes he's alone, well, his campaign will crash down like all black Republican campaigns.
posted by Steve @ 3:41:00 PM