Cardin, Steele play `gotcha' in three-way TV debate

Democrat, Republican spar over war, Metro

Zeese claims victory

Maryland Votes 2006

12 Days Until Nov. 7

October 26, 2006|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,sun reporter

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In the most tempestuous encounter to date of Maryland's U.S. Senate contest, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin played a heated game of "gotcha" during a televised debate yesterday, with Steele pressed into offering his clear support for the war in Iraq and Cardin stumbling when queried about the location of a planned Metro line in the vote-rich Washington suburbs.

The candidates sparred for an hour, talking over each other from the start and bickering about their views on embryonic stem cell research, health care and the Iraq conflict. Each contender claimed he could better bring change to Washington and that his opponent is beholden to party bosses.

"George Bush helped finance his campaign for the United States Senate," Cardin, a 10-term congressman, said of Steele. "The lieutenant governor agrees with George Bush's agenda on Social Security, on health care, the war in Iraq."

Steele snapped back: "This gentleman, this congressman has been running against George Bush for over a year. Haven't you noticed, sir, he's not represented on this stage."

"You were hand-picked by Congressman Steny Hoyer to get in this race," Steele continued, referring to the House minority leader who represents Southern Maryland and who has campaigned extensively for Cardin. "If you weren't, Kweisi Mfume should be sitting here," referring to Cardin's Democratic primary opponent.

Kevin Zeese, the third-party candidate who joined Steele and Cardin for the debate taped at the News Channel 8 studio and broadcast last night on Maryland Public Television, said both men are products of a broken political system.

"I'm the only one not in bed with the special interests," said Zeese, who is the nominee of the Green, Libertarian and Populist parties.

Debate moderator Bruce DePuyt said at the outset that the debate would have no rules, and though the candidates sat next to each other in armchairs instead of behind lecterns, what ensued was a conversation in which they could barely conceal their disdain for each other. One exchange between Cardin and Steele about the Iraq war showed that tensions are high with less than two weeks to go until the Nov. 7 election.

"I just wish the congressman would get off his talking points and listen to what I'm saying and listen to what I've said on this issue, and stop trying to drill home a dead point that doesn't reflect my reality," Steele said, when Cardin tried to tie Steele's support for the war to President Bush's policy of maintaining a military presence in Iraq.

"I know the words that come out of my mouth," Cardin interrupted Steele. "It's a very simple question, very simple question, very simple question," he said.

"What is the question?" Steele responded.

"Should we have gone into Iraq?" Cardin asked.

"Yes, we should have, to deal with the terror that was there," Steele said.

Cardin voted against the 2002 Iraq war resolution but has supported subsequent funding initiatives to provide the troops with the equipment and gear they need to get the job done. During the Senate campaign he has called for 10,000 troops to be sent home monthly from the region. Steele said yesterday that the government needs to "put in place the mechanisms for our troops to come home," but he called Cardin's original vote against the war "wrongheaded."

"You guys are both wrong on the war, I tell you," Zeese said, adding that the U.S. needs "to get out of Iraq rapidly and responsibly."

The Maryland Senate contest made national news this week when actor Michael J. Fox, who starred in the situation comedies Family Ties and Spin City, cut a television ad for Cardin. Fox has Parkinson's disease, a degenerative ailment that many scientists believe could benefit from treatments derived from embryonic stem cell research. Cardin supports federal funding for such efforts. Steele does not.

During yesterday's debate, Steele said, "I am foursquare for stem cell research, absolutely we should be funding stem cell research and accelerating that funding certainly with respect to cord blood and adult stem cells. Where I draw the line is when it comes to embryonic stem cell research. I do not support measures that would destroy that embryo because I respect the life that that embryo represents and is."

Cardin said embryonic stem cell research "holds out tremendous promise" for those suffering.

"Mr. Steele and I have a fundamental disagreement," Cardin said. "I'm in favor of moving forward with embryonic stem cell research; he opposes it."

This week, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh criticized the Fox ad, saying about Fox, whose head and body jerk about during the spot: "Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting." Limbaugh later apologized. Fox appears in similar spots for Democrats running in Missouri and New Jersey.

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