Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Steele's Web Site Parades Democrats
Steele's Web Site Parades Democrats
Hoyer Wants Photo Removed; Mfume Also Pictured
By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer

They are not the sort of photos one might expect to find headlining the Web site of a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

In one frame, Maryland's Michael S. Steele shares a chuckle and a slap on the shoulder with Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House Democratic whip. In another, Steele stands with former congressman Kweisi Mfume -- one of the Democrats hoping to run against him this fall.

But the photos displayed until yesterday in the slide show at the top of Steele's campaign Web site, , fit neatly into the script that the lieutenant governor is writing for his Senate bid. That script rarely employs the word Republican and almost always recognizes that in a dark blue state such as Maryland, no candidate can win without considerable support from registered Democrats.

"The lieutenant governor has said repeatedly that this is not a typical campaign," said Doug Heye, Steele's campaign spokesman. "He has consistently worked to reach out across party lines. The very foundation of his campaign is about building bridges."

But the use of the photos appears to have crossed a line for some Democrats, starting with Hoyer, who complained about the use of his image on the campaign site.

More recriminations came from state Democratic Party officials, who yesterday announced that they were launching a counter-site that will feature photos of who they say are Steele's real supporters. As of yesterday, the site had one photo up -- of Steele on stage with President Bush. The headline below called it "the photo Steele forgot to post."

"There will be many more," Terry Lierman, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, vowed before rattling off a list of names that included Vice President Cheney; Bush's deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove; and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, all of whom have hosted fundraisers for Steele.

"Where are their pictures?" Lierman asked. "It's what's not up on his Web site that speaks volumes."

Analysts say there is little mystery as to why Steele is not splashing Bush's mug across his Web site. A Washington Post poll of 902 registered voters in Maryland conducted June 19 through 25 showed Bush with a 33 percent approval rating in the state. It also showed that 56 percent of voters would be less likely to support a candidate backed by the president.

"I think they understand the reality of the situation in Maryland and are trying to show in as many ways as possible that he's not a typical Republican, he's not a puppet for George Bush and Karl Rove," said Jennifer E. Duffy of the Cook Political Report.

Duffy noted that in states where Bush is more popular, Democrats have not shied away from promoting themselves by embracing the president. In Nebraska, for instance, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson has run a television ad that begins with the headline, "Bush Praises Ben Nelson."

Perhaps the most unusual among the photos on Steele's Web site, Duffy said, is the one of Mfume, who is a leading contender in the Democratic primary to take on Steele in November.

"I'm guessing that if Mfume wins the primary, that photo will come down," she said.

If Mfume was disturbed by the photo, he has not said so publicly. His campaign spokesman said only that "if Michael Steele wants to put his opponents' photographs on his Web site, it's really for him to explain why."

Hoyer was not as coy. He released a statement Friday, after a Washington Times columnist first reported on the photos. He and Steele had crossed paths at a Fourth of July event in Bowie, and Hoyer said he noticed immediately that someone from Steele's campaign was taking photos.

"The second picture, I put my hand up," Hoyer said yesterday. "It was obvious to me what she was doing."

Hoyer said that when he saw the photo on Steele's site, his concern was that it would be misinterpreted by voters.

"Clearly, he wanted to give the impression that those are people in agreement with him, and that is clearly not the case," Hoyer said. "He is not someone who just came in from the cold. He was chairman of the Republican Party and a very committed and active supporter of George Bush and a prominent figure in the 2004 Republican convention. He is what he is."

Hoyer said he has asked Steele to remove the image from the site, and Steele's spokesman said yesterday that the campaign would comply. Last night, the photos of Hoyer and Mfume were removed from the home page but appeared in a gallery of photographs elsewhere on the site.