Business roadshow arrives seeking votes


With names like "Rock the Vote" and sponsors like MTV, voter-registration bus tours have largely been the province of young activists looking to recruit first-timers to the democratic process.

But that was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce parked outside a Federal Hill bar yesterday, the start of a monthlong drive to get out the business-friendly vote. Maryland was the first of 12 states to be visited by the "Vote for Business Bandwagon."

"We're looking at key states this year in the House and Senate races," said Chad Mitchell, executive director of grass-roots and advocacy programs for the chamber. "Our job is to go register as many people as we can."

This is the first time the Washington-based business federation has organized such a tour.

After a morning stop at Anne Arundel Health System in Annapolis, the red-, white-and-blue bus pulled up at the Ropewalk Tavern for a lunchtime appearance with Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. The chamber endorsed the Republican for U.S. Senate last month.

"Since he took office with Gov. [Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.], they have done terrific things for the economy here in Maryland," said Geoff O'Hara, the chamber's eastern region executive director. "They certainly carry a strong record of fiscal management and economic development."

"Economic success depends on economic empowerment," said Steele, who faces only token opposition for the Republican nomination. "It's the government's job to create an environment where the entrepreneurial spirit flourishes."

In the midday heat outside the GOP-themed bar, Steele interrupted his remarks to mop his brow.

"Almost done," he joked, and asked their indulgence as he accepted the endorsement. "I don't get this often, folks, you know? It's the U.S. Chamber! Come on!"

The Maryland Democratic Party took advantage of the swelter yesterday to needle Steele on global warming. Given the endorsement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been critical of the Kyoto Protocol, and his appearance last week at a fundraiser with Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, a climate-change skeptic, Democrats challenged Steele to explain his own position.

"I have one thing to say to that," Steele said. "God bless them."

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