Rising GOP Star Steele Struggles to Pick Race to Run
Byline: S.A. Miller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele is considered the Republican Party's best hope for capturing the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul S. Sarbanes - and he also is a coveted running mate for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
But Mr. Steele can't run for both jobs.
The choice may be a personal crossroad for Mr. Steele, 46. And his decision could present a problem for the state's Republican Party, which has struggled for relevance for more than 30 years and has few viable candidates now that two statewide offices are within reach, party insiders and political pundits say.
Party officials privately concede that they will be in a bind to field a contender for whichever race Mr. Steele forgoes, but they remain optimistic that a strong candidate will emerge.
"The Republican bench is just very thin," said Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "[But] it is far easier for them to fill the lieutenant governor spot than the Senate candidate spot."
Mr. Schaller noted that Mr. Steele, a former state Republican Party chairman who had never run for office, was a virtual unknown when Mr. Ehrlich tapped him as his running mate.
"Whoever Ehrlich picks becomes a made man in state politics, just like it gave Steele a statewide profile and a national profile because he's black," he said.
Mr. Steele, the first black elected to statewide office in Maryland, has enjoyed a dramatic rise to star status in the party.
Last year, he was awarded a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention. This month, Mr. Steele - as a member of the U.S. delegation selected by President Bush - attended the installation ceremony for Pope Benedict XVI in Vatican City. The inclusion of Mr. Steele, who is Catholic, underscores the party's ambitions for him.
"We are very hopeful that he runs [for Senate]," said Brian Nick, a spokesman for the Republican National Senatorial Committee. …