Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Maryland 2014: Really? Really, Michael?

Recently, I have been hearing another name drop into the 2014 gubernatorial pot with increasing frequency: former Lieutenant Governor and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.

Steele’s name has been thrown into the speculative mix for several years now. However, two recent developments compelled me to opine on the subject.

First, Steele’s current email address has “2014” in it.  

Second, I'm aware that he's been telling people that some sort of comeback scenario might be in his future.

When I heard both of these tidbits, I reacted with the same degree of incredulity that The Hangover’s Phil did as he watched Alan urinating in the swimming pool of Michael Steele's one-time brother-in-law, Mike Tyson: “Really? Really, Alan?!”

Now, I have always found Steele a pleasant enough fellow, as well as a charismatic communicator with good TV presence. When he became head of the RNC, I was supportive, perhaps even to the point of being a little too optimistic as to his effectiveness.

However, as far as elective politics is concerned, Maryland has never been friendly territory for Steele, as two prior unsuccessful stand-alone bids for statewide office demonstrated.

Since then, Steele presided over a period of historic success for the GOP as RNC chairman – and still got fired from his post.  At this point, I see no evidence that the voters of Maryland take him any more seriously than the members of the RNC do. 

Indeed, Steele’s approval rating was down to 19 percent in Maryland according to a July 2010 poll.  The poll also showed him losing a rematch of his 2006 Senate race against Ben Cardin by 30 points, and had his approval among Republicans down to an anemic 42 percent.

And, that was before Steele’s public implosion at the RNC.

Still, Steele sees an opportunity to launch a political comeback in Maryland?

Really? Really, Michael?

Perhaps the most surprising thing: Most of my savvier GOP friends tend to agree with Steele.

Everyone I have asked seems to think that, if Steele enters the 2014 gubernatorial race, he will romp over his competition in the GOP primary. That is, if his entry into the race doesn’t deter them from running at all. 

By some accounts, many conservatives felt that former Governor Bob Ehrlich ignored them or took their support for granted. Many also objected to Ehrlich's perceived moderate stances.

By contrast, many of them were very fond of Steele when he was lieutenant governor. He engaged them and made them feel important and appreciated. Plus, they considered him a kindred conservative spirit on issues such as abortion. 

These lingering good feelings are certainly relevant. So is the name recognition element. Factor in Steele’s largely cordial relationship with the Tea Party movement, and perhaps he does have more juice than many give him credit for.

However, if Steele emerges as the party’s nominee in 2014, he would be easy pickings for whoever his Democratic opponent would be.

In addition to facing the institutional obstacles any Maryland Republican faces, Steele would have a difficult time taking advantage of the kind of change wave which typically follows eight years of an incumbent governor.

In addition to portraying Steele as a retread candidate in the Ross Z. Pierpont tradition, they would make his competence the central theme of the campaign.

They would remind voters of his ouster at the RNC, past questions about his personal and campaign finances and campaign missteps, and poor personnel decisions – such as devising a $15,000 a month make-work convention job for former Democratic legislative aide turned crony Belinda Cook.

(Speaking of Ms. Cook, who gets paid a $25,000 signing bonus to take a job which allows you the chance to hobnob with celebrities, employ your family members, and live in oceanfront splendor in Florida? Wouldn’t the perks and the salary normally be enough?)

I can hear the Democrats' sound bite now: "If Steele couldn't run the RNC, how can he run the State of Maryland?"

For Steele, it would be the proverbial death of a thousand cuts. He would be so busy defending his own past that it would negate his ability to criticize the establishment's record or articulate a credible and compelling vision for the future.

Bob Ehrlich’s defeat in 2010 gave Maryland Republicans a chance to turn the page, develop new talent, and build for the future. Nominating Michael Steele robs them of the opportunities a clean slate brings.

Today there are 40 more Republican elected officials in Maryland than there were a year ago. It’s time to start developing that talent rather than mining the past.

I wish the best for Steele. But I think the best thing for him to do is remain on the pundit’s circuit. He's pretty good at it. Plus, it’s in his personal interest, as well as in the interest of Maryland’s GOP.

Once you’ve endured the Titanic, why ever would you want to book passage on the Lusitania?

(By the way, as for Ms. Cook, I hear she is back working for Steele. Let me see: A former political staffer relying on a retired elected official as a source of last-ditch employment. Now where have I heard that before?)

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