Dem Rep. Gets Early Start on Maryland Senate Race

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Rep. Benjamin Cardin (search) has raised more than $1 million for his Senate bid, four times more than his nearest competitor and enough, he said, to campaign across the state and win over "persuadable voters."

"We're going to be in every area — red areas, blue areas and purple areas," the Democrat said recently at a Greater Laurel/Beltsville Democratic Club gathering at Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que in Laurel.

But analysts said an early lead in fund raising is no guarantee of success in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (search), D-Md., who is stepping down next year.

While former Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume (search) had raised only $238,196, according to his most recent report with the Federal Election Commission, "Mfume knows how to do more with less," said Herb Smith, professor of political science at McDaniel College.

"He's very efficient on the stump," Smith added.

And the winner of the Democratic primary could well face a general election against Lt. Gov. Michael L. Steele (search), who has established an exploratory committee but has yet to officially enter the Senate race.

Even though Steele reported a fund-raising total of just $100, most expect he will get a great deal of financial support if and when he announces his candidacy.

"Republicans are talking about a $15 million Senate campaign," Cardin said last week in Laurel.

Cardin raised the bulk of his money in the last quarter, according to his June 30 filing with the FEC. He would not cite a specific fund-raising goal, but said a successful campaign would require more than the nearly $6 million raised by Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski (search) in her successful 2004 re-election campaign.

Patrick Gonzales, president of Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies, said Steele's highly visible elected office makes him a "more viable candidate than other Republican candidates over the past 20 years."

In the meantime, the Maryland Republican Party is "absolutely not" concerned about Steele falling behind in fund raising, said Audra Miller, communications director for the Maryland Republican Party.

"If he does enter the race he will have the full support of the White House, of the Republican National Committee and we hope all the Republican Party members throughout the state, as well as the country," she said.

Maryland Democratic Party officials, too, are not concerned. They said that any financial boon Steele gets from associating with national Republican figures — such as President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and senior White House adviser Karl Rove — could prove to be a political liability for his campaign.

"The president and [Republican] Congress enjoy a remarkably low approval rating among Americans, and especially among voters in Maryland," said Derek Walker, communications director for the Maryland Democratic Party.

"We welcome George Bush and Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and anybody else who wants to prove to a greater degree how closely Governor [Robert] Ehrlich and Lieutenant Governor Steele are aligned with the [Bush] administration," Walker said.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.