“By JENN BOGDAN
Capital News Service
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele finally took the stage at the Republican National Convention Wednesday, greeted by flag-waving Marylanders, and extolled Sen. John McCain’s considerable experience and proven judgment.
“”It’s about his (McCain’s) understanding that associations do matter, and that America, though flawed, should not be damned for creating a place so many want to call home,”” said Steele.
The Maryland delegation welcomed Steele to the stage at 8:55 p.m. with a fervent call-and-response cheer. Maryland delegates on floor shouted, “”Michael,”” prompting their alternates in the next section above to yell, “”Steele.”” Delegation members remained on their feet for more than half the speech.
Delegate Melinda Fitzwater, a recent Maryland transplant who worked for the Reagan administration, said she was inspired by Steele’s concrete message of hope and promise and has been impressed with his consistency.
“”It’s a little tougher to be a Republican in Maryland with the makeup of the government right now. We need some help and he’s (Steele’s) it,”” said Fitzwater.
Maryland’s Senate, House of Delegates and governor’s office are in the control of Democrats.
Steele, chairman of the Republican candidate-grooming organization GOPAC and a Fox News commentator, spoke about leadership being tested in times of uncertainty, referring to McCain’s long record of service, as well as his decision to abridge the convention while Hurricane Gustav battered the Gulf Coast.
“”Some just talk about change, but John McCain believes the resiliency of the American people is the real source of the change America needs; and that means putting country first,”” said Steele.
Tuesday night, Steele said he was crossing his fingers that he would finally get to take the stage, after Gustav prompted a scheduling shuffle that bumped him from Tuesday night up to Monday night and then eventually to his Wednesday slot.
“”He’s been bounced around a lot, but not bumped off the schedule, because obviously the Republican Party needs to fit in someone diverse somewhere. The party needs that speech,”” said Dr. Ron Walters, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland.
Since leaving the lieutenant governor’s office, Steele has been touted as a candidate for a variety of public offices, despite losing a Senate race two years ago, including a few mentions as a possible vice presidential candidate for McCain.
Steele is not yet sure what his prospects are in the coming years, but said he is open to many possibilities.
Walters said Steele is now in a good position to run for governor or run again for Senate after making his second speech at a national convention.
However, with former Maryland Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich losing his re-election campaign and Steele’s failed Senate bid, his best future prospects as a Republican might be as a member of Sen. John McCain’s Cabinet if he’s elected in November.
In 2004, Steele came out in strong support for the re-election of President Bush, directly countering Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s break-out speech at the Democratic National Convention that year. He criticized Obama’s message of hope saying it was not a viable political strategy.
The 2004 speech was given early on in the second night of the convention, similar the position he was originally assigned at this year’s gathering.
Steele, who warmed up the crowd for former presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee, of Arkansas, and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, has been a key figure on the Republican Party’s radar since his unsuccessful, high-profile run for Senate in 2006. He was defeated by now-Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.
Copyright © 2008 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism