Four years after being the first black person elected to statewide office in Maryland, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is running for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Democrat Paul Sarbanes.
He will face off against the winner of the Sept. 12 Democratic primary between U.S. Rep. Benjamin Cardin and former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who left his position as president and CEO of the NAACP in 2004.
Before running for office in 2002, Steele was a stalwart within the Maryland Republican Party, serving on various committees and campaigns, and as chairman of the party in Prince George's County, a mostly black suburb outside the Washington, D.C. In 2000, he became the first black to serve as the chairman of any state Republican Party.
Steele is largely running on Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich's successes over the past four years, including economic growth and increases in education spending. Steele plans on supporting many of the same policies implemented by Ehrlich, such as encouraging minority entrepreneurship, a commitment to small business, and school vouchers.
Steele is a staunch conservative on social issues, including opposing same-sex marriage and abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. He is also against stem cell research, coming under widespread criticism for comparing the science to the eugenics experiments undertaken by the Nazis during the Holocaust. He later apologized for the remarks.
Much of the notoriety surrounding Steele is based on his position as one of a rare species: the black Republican. Not only is he a rarity in his own state's history, Steele is the highest-ranking elected black official in the country and the only black lieutenant governor. At the 2004 Republican National Convention, Steele responded to Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's keynote address at the Democratic convention, explaining how, as a black man, he became a Republican.
For the Senate race, Steele will have to prepare for two different campaigns depending on who wins the Democratic nomination: Cardin, who is Jewish, or Mfume, who is also black.
Should Cardin win the nomination, a July 2 Washington Post poll gives the Democrat a healthy lead in the general election, even though Steele would garner nearly a quarter of the black vote. If Mfume wins the nomination, the general election would be too close to call.
Either way, Steele's race likely will play a part in his campaign.
When Ehrlich held a re-election campaign event at a white-only country club, Steele was chastised by the local black community for failing to criticize the governor. After initially referring to the controversy as "all a bunch of nothing," Steele later said that the country club should re-think its policy.
Steele's closeness to the Bush administration also has hurt his image among black voters. According to the same Washington Post poll, three-quarters of black Marylanders strongly disapproved of President Bush and nine out of 10 believe the war in Iraq has not been worth fighting.
Steele was born at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, Maryland, on Oct. 19, 1958 and grew up in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C. He went to Archbishop Carroll Roman Catholic High in Washington and remains a devout Catholic. After graduating with a B.A. in international relations from Johns Hopkins University in 1981, Steele spent three years preparing to be a priest as a seminarian in the Order of St. Augustine.
He went on to graduate with a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1991 and practiced international investment law with a firm in Washington before starting his own firm in 1998.
He is married to a college classmate, Andrea Derritt Steele, and has two sons.
Campaign Web site: www.steeleformaryland.com