Steele Fundraising Catches Up to Rival in Maryland Senate Race

Maryland Republican Senate candidate Lt. Gov. Michael Steele might have entered an election race six months after his main political rival, but he has made strong — and lucrative — strides.

In the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., Steele is closing the gap with Baltimore Democrat Rep. Ben Cardin. Steele raised about $50,000 more than Cardin during the last quarter of 2005, according to reports released by the campaigns. Final reports for all Senate candidates are due by Jan. 31.

Steele has raised $1.27 million since he joined the race in October and in the fourth quarter took in $853,000, according to Lenny Alcivar, Steele campaign spokesman.

Meanwhile, Cardin's campaign said Wednesday that the Maryland congressman raised $2.8 million total and has about $2.1 million. In the last quarter, he took in about $800,000.

Cardin spokesman Oren Shur noted that the past four months were Steele's first full quarter as a candidate and that Cardin, who announced his candidacy last spring, raised $1.2 million during his initial quarter without the support of a sitting president.

"It is absolutely critical Democrats unite behind a principled leader who will have the resources to back himself," Shur said.

Though Steele has raised less than half of Cardin's total, he added 1,330 donors during the quarter and now has 5,300. Cardin has just over 4,000, 70 percent of whom are from Maryland with about 1,600 of the total coming in the fourth quarter.

Alcivar said the voters in Maryland are demonstrating a shift of allegiance from Democrats to Republicans with their money.

"His campaign clearly is moving in the wrong direction," he said of Cardin. "It's a very difficult thing to raise money in a state such as Maryland that is 2-to-1 Democratic. When you are able to outraise . . . a 20-year member of Congress . . . it shows there is a trend that's happened."

The other Democratic candidates lag behind Cardin in fundraising. Allan Lichtman, an American University history professor, said Wednesday that he had $320,000 at the end of 2005 and "a little more than that now." He criticized how Cardin's campaign spent the money.

"Cardin's been around for 40 years; when you're the established guy you can raise money," he said. "What in the world has he spent it on? I haven't heard any Cardin message loud and clear."

Campaigns disclosed general fundraising data. Full expense reports, including campaign spending, will be disclosed at the end of the month.

Independent candidate Kevin Zeese, who said he has about $30,000 on hand, said the amount of money raised often distracts voters from the more important issues.

"They put the money interest ahead of the voters' interests," he said. "I hope money is not what decides politics, and people are getting sickened that money decides politics."

Zeese, who will be on the ballot in November representing the Libertarian, Populist, and Green parties, called his rivals' campaigns a "monied approach."

"I'm concerned that they are selling out to the highest bidder as they traditionally do in the other two parties," he said.

Alcivar said Steele's campaign does not worry about other candidates, but did say that former Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen, who recently announced his candidacy in the Democratic primary, "might change the dynamics of the race." Rasmussen is considered to be more conservative than the other Democratic candidates and could play a role of spoiler.

Rasmussen's campaign did not return calls for comment.

Spokesmen for Democratic candidates Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and ex-NAACP leader, and Lise Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist, declined to release their campaign's financial details.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.