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Steele Staff Shake Up

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's campaign manager quietly left the U.S. Senate campaign earlier this month--underscoring a broader tug of war between the Republican candidate's Washington advisers and his longtime loyalists from Maryland.

Graham M. Shafer, a Maryland native whose ties to Steele date back a decade, resigned his post citing family obligations, a campaign spokesman confirmed Wednesday.

His departure came before Steele's remarks a week ago equating stem cell research to Nazi experimentation in the Holocaust. But those comments to a Baltimore Jewish group and the candidate's response--an apology and then a statement supporting some forms of the controversial research--intensified the conflict between national GOP officials and Steele's longtime advisers, said three well-placed sources.

"To some degree, this had to be expected," said a Republican source in Annapolis who has watched the campaign closely. "This race is very important to people in Washington. But they don't know Maryland like Michael does."

The stem cell remarks also gave Democratic opponents an opening to tag Steele with the conservative Republican philosophy he rarely espouses on the campaign trail. Rep. Ben Cardin yesterday launched an online petition in support of stem cell research, declaring "Ben believes that President Bush and Michael Steele have it backwards on stem cell research."

Matt Mosk

One Washington figure taking a more hands-on role in the Steele campaign is national GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman, Steele confirmed during a brief interview yesterday.

Mehlman is a native of Pikesville, a suburb north of Baltimore, and he ran President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign before becoming party chairman. He has made electing black Republicans a key goal nationally and has focused considerable personal attention on Steele.

"Ken Mehlman is very, very interested in this campaign," said one source, who added that Mehlman has "provided references and suggested people" to succeed Shafer as campaign manager, including the candidate who is favored to get the position.

By Phyllis Jordan  |  February 16, 2006; 3:17 AM ET
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I think most Maryland voters will look at the Steele campaign with greater and greater disdain as he welcomes more and more Beltway Insiders into the upper echelons of his campaign.

And that's fine with me. The more they bring in national GOP help, the more Cardin and the Democrats can point and say "This is Karl Rove's pick for the US Senate."

Posted by: corbett | February 16, 2006 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Steele is just a bad candidate. Have you ever seen the guy speak? I have seen him multiple times on "Real Time with Bill Maher" and he is just ghastly. He is the personifcation of "flip-flopper." The three times he's been on the show, he gets up there and spits out GOP talking points and when he gets called out on it he puts on this, "I'm just some simple peoples' kinda guy!" horse and pony show. The worst part (and what I find offensive) is after being called out he then changes his demeanor, starts speaking in the vernacular, and tries to play like he's something other than a GOP mouth piece. He's a sham...

Posted by: Mr. K | February 16, 2006 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Am I the only one who finds it odious that the "Washington esatblishment" (Bush administration) seems to believe that with single digit african american support they have ANY crediblility in an attempt to put a black face on the republican party? Steele for US Senate? Swann fro PA governor? Why not try Alan Keyes in the state in which he actually lives? Does anyone remember his run against Obama? How cynical was that? Which brings me i guess to the big one; Condi Rice. I have heard people slather at the prospect of a Rice/Clinton choice in '08 on the GOP side and i find it repugnant. Good luck with that.

Posted by: Cass Kunst | February 16, 2006 10:58 AM | Report abuse

As I said when the whole stem cell story broke, this is the end of the Michael Steele rising star of the black GOP. Hopefully this will teach the GOP that if they want blacks to vote and have a place in their party, they need to stop looking for the few ones misguided enough to support their agenda, and start trying to talk to blacks about the issues that matter to us as a whole like education, social safety net and affirmative action, and not just the demagogic ones like gay marraige.

Posted by: RCDennis | February 16, 2006 11:00 AM | Report abuse

A reminder, we will remove any comments with defamatory or profane content.
I just removed one, the first since we went online a month ago.

Posted by: Phyllis Jordan | February 16, 2006 12:37 PM | Report abuse

It's funny that someone thinks folks here will treat Steele with disdain because of "Beltway insiders" in his campaign. Cardin is the typical Beltway insider, so I think any attempts to focus on that issue will be to the detriment of the Democrats.

Posted by: MK | February 16, 2006 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I guess I should have qualified "Beltway Insiders" as Bush Cronies. Cardin is a much better known quantity, his team has been his team, whereas it's pretty straight forward - Bush is not popular in this state, nor are his heavy-duty politicos. Bringing those people (Mehlman and Rove) in to help an already faulting campaign is going to go over about as well as a lead "Steele for Senate" balloon.

Posted by: corbett | February 16, 2006 2:47 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure how you can label Steele's campaign as "faulting" (did you perhaps mean faltering?), since he's doing quite well in both the polls and fundraising. Steele made a personnel change and decided to bring in a Maryland native who knows how to influence elections. I don't think this will be a big issue. I know the Democrats will try to make Bush the issue of the campaign, and that's fair to an extent, but it's unlikely to work. Voters know the election is between Cardin (most likely) and Steele, not Cardin and Bush. Democrats should concentrate and stressing Cardin's positive values and not Bush's negatives.

Posted by: MK | February 16, 2006 3:32 PM | Report abuse

You're right; in my zeal to avoid doing work and write comments on here, I didn't proof what I wrote. I did mean faltering. That said, you have to be realistic - this is politics in 2006. The entire 2006 election - as just about every mid-term election during the second term for a President - is partly a referendum on the President.

But if we make this purely a Cardin against Steele race, it's still hard to see how the never-elected-on-his-own Steele can win. From my personal experience as a constituent of Ben Cardin's, he's been extraordinarily responsive in helping my family and I deal with bureaucratic blundering by the IRS and most recently with that travesty that is Medicare Part D. For Steele, as Mr. K noted, all you need to do is what him on Real Time (or anyplace else) - he's good at prattling off the talking points, but any in-depth questioning and he looks as confused as a 11th grader grappling with his first calculus problem.

Posted by: corbett | February 16, 2006 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I did it again. "...all you need to do is what him..."

Should say "...all you need to do is WATCH him..."

Posted by: corbett | February 16, 2006 4:02 PM | Report abuse

I understand that the election will certainly be, to some extent, a referendum on Bush. I also understand that in a state like Maryland the tactic of tying Steele to Bush will pay larger dividends than in, say, Virginia. However, in the end, this is not enough to win the election, especially this election where Steele will be taking voters from the Democratic base. The Democrats must stress why Cardin is an attractive candidate, which they have not done yet (admittedly, it is early in the election). Steele, on the other hand, is presenting a good image and has given voters a reason to consider him on his own merits. This strategy of tying Bush to Steele is also resulting in a lot of press coverage for Steele, increasing his name recognition.

You can't win a race simply stressing why your opponent should lose (except in extraordinary circumstances like the Delay-Lampson race), and that seems to be the Democrats' strategy for sinking Steele. Even in Maryland, the anti-Bush vote is not large enough to make this strategy work.

Posted by: MK | February 16, 2006 4:40 PM | Report abuse

What the Democrats need is a real outsider candidate ... like Dr. Lise Van Susteren. She's smart, different from the regular blah-blah politicinas and she's really connecting with people.

It would be a waste to elect a boring, middle-of-the-road professional politician to the Senate from Maryland. If we can't elect a true progressive, who can?

Posted by: Bethesda | February 16, 2006 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Bethesda, that's actually a great point. We should elect someone we can truly be proud to call our Senator. If the democratic candidate is elected in November, it will be very difficult to go back in 6 yrs and beat the incumbent during the primary.

I know Ben Cardin is a very smart man and a very effective legislator in the house. I don't know much about the other candidates, but I'm very interested to learn more. Primaries are a great opportunity for this, and we shouldn't be overzealous in trying to "clear the field" this early in the campaign.

Posted by: John | February 17, 2006 3:33 AM | Report abuse

I'm in agreement with Bethesda and John about an outsider candidate. In politics (especially these days) it's so hard to get a fresh face with new ideas. Look what happened to Paul Hackett in Ohio. A new bold player being shot down by the old establishment. I hope we are above that in MD. Makes me think about term limits...but I digress.

MK, I have to disagree with you about Steele taking votes from the Democratic base. What are you basing that statement off of? I don't think African American voters (who are typically Democratcs) are going to vote for him simply because he is black. What substantive actions has he taken to court the Democratic vote? As far as I have seen, he's still spitting out the same tired GOP talking points which doesn't do much to attract Democrats.

Posted by: Mr. K | February 17, 2006 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Steele has made major efforts to outreach to the black community in Maryland and will almost certainly improve on the traditional percentage of black voters who vote Republican. It may not be a huge number, but it will be enough to hurt. Plus, Democrats will have to spend more time shoring up the black vote they took for granted in other elections, which means they will have less time and resources for reaching out to independents.

Posted by: MK | February 17, 2006 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Democrats taking the black vote for granted is a made up divisive Republican tactic. We all know how much Republicans pay attention to them (e.g. Bush not ever attending an NAACP conference). Independant voters have little affinity for Republican candidates these days. In a state where Dems outnumber Republicans 2 to 1Steele winning is laughable.

Posted by: Mr. K | February 18, 2006 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Of course the Democrats take the black vote for granted. They offer very little of substance to the black community and they exploit the view of the "racist Republicans" to the hilt to keep blacks from straying off the reservation. I certainly agree that the GOP has done little to attract the black vote, but you can hardly blame them. Why make an effort if there will be no payoff? This is changing recently, though, and the GOP is making a real play for the black vote. As far as the NAACP, why should Bush go there? It is little more than an appendage of the Democrat Party, so why bother? Bush has addressed more independent-minded black groups, however.

As far as Steele winning, I'm not sure that he will. It's certainly an uphill battle in a state like Maryland, but it could happen. If he's facing an uninspiring candidate like Cardin, and if the natinal GOP cleans up its act, he may very well do it.

Posted by: MK | February 18, 2006 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Steele offended African Americans as well as Jews with his remarks. His remarks to members of the Baltimore Jewish Council Board about his stance on embryonic stem cell research were reported as follows:

'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,' said Steele * * *.
'I know that as well in my community,
out of our experience with slavery,
and so I'm very cautious when people
say this is the best new thing, this
is going to save lives.'

Article by Jennifer Skalka, "Steele's words at meeting faulted," Sun (02-10-2006),1,1249925.story

Those comments are sufficient to disqualify Steele for the U. S. Senate.

Posted by: Marc Jan | February 19, 2006 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Here's the full Steele quote, as reported in the Post 2/10 and 2/11

Question: Where are you on stem cell research?
Answer: I think you know the governor and I have squared away where we are. I stand with the governor in terms of dollars. I can tell you straight up what my concern is. I’m very concerned when we start tinkering around with life and we’re not careful and we get ahead of ourselves and that’s the concern I have with embryonic stem cell research. I have members of my family who would definitely benefit ..... but my ethics and my conscience tell me that sometimes man can get a little bit ahead of ourselves. That’s why I’m cautious. Embryonic stem cell research is still a developing science.
I am very concerned about the destruction of life. I think we have too much of a culture of death around us, so I promote life.... I don’t know why people are so afraid to raise a flag of caution, why you can’t say: “Let’s think. Let’s be careful. Let’s be smart.” This is a very slippery slope ..... and I’m concerned. Look, 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. I know that as well from my community and our experience with slavery. I’m a little bit more hesitant. Let’s let the science help us create that path.”

Posted by: Phyllis Jordan | February 20, 2006 6:11 PM | Report abuse

--Phyllis Jordan--

No slight to the Washington Post intended. When I read Steele's remarks, I read them in the Sun.

In the context of his full remarks, Steele's pandering with respect to the Holocaust and slavery was insulting and demeaning not only to Jews, the group he addressed, but also to African Americans. It would be useful for a reporter to get comments from African Americans concerning Steele's remarks.

Posted by: Marc Jan | February 20, 2006 10:47 PM | Report abuse

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