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Maryland's Ehrlich picks running mate

Lt. Gov. choice an effort to woo African-Americans

Steele, left, and Ehrlich
Steele, left, and Ehrlich  

From Bert Kaufman and John Mercurio

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (CNN) -- Borrowing a page from his Democratic opponent, Republican Robert Ehrlich chose a running mate in the Maryland gubernatorial race who could help him draw stronger support from swing voters.

Ehrlich announced Monday that corporate securities attorney Michael Steele, an African-American, is his pick for lieutenant governor.

Steele, 43, has been chairman of the Maryland Republican Party for the past two years. He resides in Prince George's County, a traditional Democratic stronghold where he once served as the GOP chief.

"The state is near bankruptcy. Our criminal justice system is a revolving door for violent criminals, our highways are choked with gridlock," Steele said, criticizing the current governor, Parris N. Glendening, and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

Townsend last week announced retired Adm. Charles Larson as her running mate. Larson, a longtime Republican who switched parties a few weeks before joining the Democratic ticket, twice served as the superintendent of the Naval Academy.

Steele was appointed to the academy's board of visitors earlier this year.

Ehrlich, a four-term congressman, said his campaign "would be unlike any Maryland has seen before." Analysts said his selection is designed in part to shield the GOP ticket from anticipated Democratic charges that they favor policies that are insensitive to minorities.

In his tough re-election fight in 1998, Glendening effectively attacked Republican Ellen Sauerbrey on civil rights issues, a strategy that helped increase black voter turnout for the Democratic ticket.

Steele is no stranger to politics. In addition to running the state Republican Party, he ran unsuccessfully for state comptroller in 1998. After graduating from Georgetown Law School in 1991, he spent the next decade as a practicing attorney.

Steele also spent time in the seminary at Villanova University, and he was student body president at Johns Hopkins University, where he earned his degree in international relations in 1981.

Coincidentally, Steele's father, a Democrat, worked as a part-time limousine driver for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Townsend's father. Steele's parents had a framed picture of the late President John Kennedy, Townsend's uncle, hanging on their living room wall.

Kate Philips, a Townsend spokeswoman, said Ehrlich's choice will offer voters a clear contrast.

"We think there is a clear distinction between the two tickets, and this choice strengthens that decision," she said. "Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is very proud of the selection she has made."

-- CNN Senior Political Researcher Robert Yoon contributed to this report.




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