Mr. Steele enters the fray

October 27, 2005

MICHAEL S. STEELE has made up his mind. Now the question is: What exactly is on his mind? What we know for sure is that he's running for the U.S. Senate. Maryland Republicans are understandably excited about this. The lieutenant governor is better-known and more personable and articulate than any candidate the GOP has fielded for the Senate since Charles McC. Mathias. He's struck a conciliatory theme, a rejection of Capitol Hill partisanship, that should resonate with voters.

But Mr. Steele faces a daunting task. He needs to establish himself as someone in Maryland's political mainstream. No longer a second banana or a party operative, he must set his own course. Mr. Steele's relatively short political rM-isumM-i could prove an advantage in this. His views aren't well known - and his tenure as a lieutenant governor has kept him off the hot seat, too.

This much is clear: Maryland voters don't much care for President Bush. It's nothing personal; mostly it's policy. Democrats predict Mr. Steele's views will prove too right-wing for local tastes. And his ties to strategist Karl Rove - whom he featured at a recent fundraiser - suggest a tin ear for Maryland sensibilities.

Not surprisingly, a recent poll shows Mr. Steele would lose a hypothetical general election to Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin by 9 points. But the race is still to be run. Voters expect more than likability from their leaders. Mr. Steele's candidacy will rise - or fall - by where he stands on the important issues. Now it's time to pin down exactly where that might be.

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