Steele Leads Fundraising in Md. Senate Race

For the second consecutive fundraising period, Maryland Republican U.S. Senate candidate Michael Steele raised more money than the leading Democratic opponent, according to figures supplied by campaigns.

Steele's campaign brought in $1.3 million during the first three months of the year, edging out U.S. Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, who raised nearly $1 million, the campaigns said. Steele has $1.67 million cash on hand, while Cardin has about $2.6 million.

During the last three months of last year, Steele, who entered the race in October, raised $853,000, approximately $50,000 more than Cardin.

The recent figures indicate voters want a fresh face to represent Maryland and "are tired of Washington-style politics as usual,” said Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for Steele.

Some analysts, however, said Steele's ability to raise money means little because Cardin's cash on hand is greater.

"Always in campaign fundraising a candidate wants an upward trajectory and both candidates seem to show that right now," said Massie Ritsch, communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan and non-profit group that studies campaign finances.

Steele also made organizational changes since the new year. He has hired a new campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, communications director, and policy director.

Of the other Democratic candidates vying to replace retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., businessman Joshua Rales raised nearly $520,000 in the last quarter, his campaign said. Rales has contributed $500,000 of the $1.1 million raised so far for his race. The rest of the candidates would not disclose campaign finance figures, which were due Friday to the Federal Elections Commission.

History professor Allan Lichtman's campaign declined to release amounts raised, but a spokesman said the cash on hand is "more than $300,000." He said this was their most expensive quarter because of a television ad Lichtman launched.

In a straw poll at a Democratic summit last weekend, Lichtman finished second to Cardin, edging out Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and ex-leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose campaign did not return phone calls Wednesday.

Cardin's campaign gathered 2,500 new contributors for a total of more than 6,500 individual donors, according to the campaign.

Cardin has enough to beat Steele, his spokesman, Oren Shur said, and voters know "he's a man of unquestioned integrity who has a record of getting things done."

Representatives for candidates Lise Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist.

"Michael Steele has the power of the White House behind him," Van Susteren's spokesman Ron Eckstein said. "He is doing everything the White House asks and in turn they are helping him out."

Independent candidate Kevin Zeese, an attorney, said he had not looked at his estimates lately but is "not expecting to be in their ballpark."

Ritsch said money raised is worth knowing because there is a "close correlation" between money spent and votes received.

"Since both guys raised more money this quarter than last, more attention is being paid to their campaigns, to the race, and you're going to see more money poured into the race," he said.

However, Bobbie Walton, executive director for Maryland's chapter of Common Cause, a non-partisan government watchdog organization, called the estimates "primitive" and said he hopes the race will be decided not on fundraising totalsm, but on candidates' positions.

"Certainly," she said, "when you get elected to office you need to do something other than raise money."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.