Via The Hedgehog Report: For the first time, poll numbers out of Maryland show Lt. Gov. Michael Steele leading both of the leading Democrats. The Rasmussen numberss show Steele leading Rep. Ben Cardin 45-40 and former Rep. and former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume 45-38. In spite of these numbers, I would argue that Steele remains the underdog against Cardin and is somewhere between a slight underdog and a slight favorite against Mfume.
Steele is thus far running an excellent campaign. He is the ideal Republican candidate for the state of Maryland, successfully garnering the support that he so desperately needs from social conservatives on issues like abortion and school choice while at the same time preventing himself from being portrayed as an extremist through his opposition to the death penalty and general affability. Even so, the state’s default vote goes heavily to Democrats, especially at the federal level. As such, the important number to watch in this race is Steele’s performance in head-to-head match-ups. At 45%, Steele is doing relatively well this far out. If the election were held today, though, most observers would likely argue that Steele would lose to Cardin. Especially in an environment that is highly charged with a Supreme Court fight and in which the President’s popularity is only slightly higher than his all-time low, Steele will find it extremely difficult to get to the 50% mark. Further, the Democrats are currently focusing on beating each other. Once a single candidate’s attention is turned to Steele, it will be extremely difficult for him to continue to balance conservative and liberal support. To win, Steele will have to reach out to Catholics and score a resounding victory among them while at the same time overperforming in Baltimore. Both are entirely possible, but the balance will be tough to strike, and any mistake could be fatal to his candidacy. Steele’s best bet would be to focus on school choice, an issue on which both key groups can agree. This would put his opponent in an awkward position of attempting to explain why parents should not be able to make important decisions about their childrens’ education. Should the radical Mfume pull off the primary upset, all of this will become much easier. Even so, Steele continues to fight an uphill battle. If conservatives hope to win the seat, their best bet is to work to support Mfume until the September primary.