WASHINGTON - Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin said yesterday that he is still seriously considering a run for the U.S. Senate and plans to announce a decision soon.
"I am pretty much on schedule. I've talked to a lot of people, and they've all been very encouraging," he said. "We're going through this process, and I'm hoping to complete it within the time frame I've set out, which was a couple of weeks."
Cardin, 61, is one of several Democrats who have expressed interest in the seat held by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who announced this month that he will retire when his term ends after next year.
So far, only Kweisi Mfume - a former Baltimore congressman who recently resigned as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - has formally announced his candidacy. Yesterday, A. Robert Kaufman, a civic activist who has made several unsuccessful runs for statewide office, said he would file as a candidate Monday.
Other Democrats are mulling whether to jump into the race. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger opened an exploratory fund-raising account last week, while aides to Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Elijah E. Cummings said yesterday that both are still thinking about running. So is Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey.
All are testing the waters, consulting friends, family and - most important - people who understand political polling and fund raising across Maryland.
On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele has said he is seriously considering a run and will make further announcements in the next few weeks.
Cardin, who represents parts of Baltimore and the surrounding area, was elected to Congress in 1986 after spending almost 20 years in the state House of Delegates. In January, he became the top Democrat on the trade subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee.
He has flirted with the idea of running for statewide office before, most recently in 1998, when he considered challenging then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening in the Democratic primary.
Cardin said that if he decides to run, he will announce a formal candidacy, skipping the more tentative step of forming an exploratory committee.
Asked whether an announcement could come by the end of this week, he said, "A lot depends - I can't answer that, because I have not concluded what I'm going to do."