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Hot-button social issues have largely remained a dormant element of the U.S. Senate campaign in Maryland this year, even though the two candidates have sharply divergent views on abortion, gay marriage and the death penalty.
But that's starting to change, as groups supporting Republican Michael S. Steele and Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin yesterday began ramping up their involvement.

A group called the Maryland Values Coalition announced that it will launch an effort to energize black voters who hold conservative values. Among the sponsors of the effort are Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Lanham and Doug Stiegler, an anti-abortion advocate in Maryland.

"Like the Catholic vote in the 2004 presidential election, we see the African American values vote as the key demographic to any winning campaign," Jackson, a longtime Steele supporter, said in a prepared statement.

At the same time, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, released a statement criticizing comments Steele made about abortion in a recent interview. When asked by an MSNBC reporter whether he thought the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion legalizing abortion nationwide was wrongly decided, Steele said: "What has that got to do with anything? I'm a Senate candidate. My opinion on that is moot."

Keenan's response: "Michael Steele's statement on Roe v. Wade is unbelievable -- and the voters in Maryland will not allow him to evade questions on a woman's right to choose."

Correction: Dick Dowling of the Maryland Catholic Conference was listed as participating in this effort. He said this afternoon he is not involved.

Matt Mosk

By Phyllis Jordan  |  October 19, 2006; 6:33 AM ET
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