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Puppy Love

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, it seems, can't go anywhere these days without being asked about that puppy.

You know, the black-and-white Boston terrier that stars in his U.S. Senate campaign commercials -- and in the Democratic response ad on behalf of his opponent, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin.

There was Steele on Friday at two Howard County schools to talk with teachers about the findings of a year-long education commission he led.

But the first thing state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader (R-Howard) wanted to know when she greeted him at Murray Hill Middle School was, "How's the puppy?" An assistant superintendent jokingly asked for a role in Steele's next spot.

Steele shook his head and smiled, telling them both, "The puppy has gone Hollywood on me and gotten an agent."

After meeting Steele, a teacher at his next stop -- Hammond High School -- exclaimed, "I love the ad!" She then wondered aloud whether Steele had taken acting lessons to prepare for the commercials, in which he comes across as quite casual and comfortable.

Steele later explained to the high school dance teacher that he once dreamed of performing on Broadway. He acted in plays in high school and college, in addition to practicing ballet and tap dancing. (His most challenging role, he said, was in a Johns Hopkins University production of "The Music Man," in which he played the charming con man, Professor Harold Hill.)

Dance educator Brooke Kuhl-McClelland, Howard's teacher of the year, didn't miss a beat: "Once you win this position, you can dance all over the Senate."

The puppy, owned by Steele's political consultant, made his deebut a couple of weeks ago in a spot that cast the lieutenant governor as a different kind of politician. Steele, looking more like a talk show host than a politician, warns viewers of forthcoming negative ads.

"Grainy pictures and spooky music saying, 'Steele hates puppies' -- and worse. For the record, I love puppies," Steele says, puppy in hand. "And I think you deserve better -- some real ideas for change."

The Democratic response pokes fun at that approach. "It's nice that Steele likes puppies, but he's running for the United States Senate, and it's important to know where he stands on the issues."

The screen repeatedly flashes a photo of Steele and Bush arm-and-arm as the announcer tells viewers that Steele supports the Iraq war, opposes abortion and backed the president's decision to veto a bill that would have increased federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

"Michael Steele, he likes puppies, but he loves George Bush," the announcer concludes as the photo of Steele and Bush is framed in a heart.

In a quick retort, Steele labeled the Democratic spots as "nasty ads from the Washington crowd." He brings back the puppy who growls in agreement.

Ann E. Marimow

By Phyllis Jordan  |  October 1, 2006; 6:18 AM ET
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