By LIZ SIDOTI
A Republican in a competitive Senate race called his party affiliation "an impediment," said he’d "probably not" want President Bush to campaign for him and the GOP-controlled Congress should "just shut up and get something done."
Michael Steele’s campaign confirmed Tuesday that the Maryland lieutenant governor made the comments a day earlier on the condition reporters only identify him as a GOP Senate candidate. However, the campaign said his published remarks were just a sampling from a wide-ranging, 90-minute interview in which he praised the president.
The Washington Post said nine reporters from newspapers, magazines and the networks attended the lunch at a Capitol Hill steakhouse and asked the campaign to allow them to use Steele’s name. The newspaper said the campaign considered the request but ultimately refused. The Associated Press did not attend the lunch.
The newspaper quoted the unnamed candidate as saying the Iraq war "didn’t work" and "we didn’t prepare for the peace," that the response to Hurricane Katrina was "a monumental failure of government," and that "there’s a palpable frustration right now in the country."
Of Republicans who control Congress, the candidate said: "We’ve lost our way, we’ve gone to the well and we drank the water, and we shouldn’t have."
"You don’t go to Congress to become the party that you’ve been fighting for 40 years," he said, lamenting "the spending, the finger-pointing, not getting the bills passed" and counseled: "Just shut up and get something done."
Asked if he wanted Bush to campaign for him, the candidate initially said, "well, you know, I don’t know" and then, noting the president’s low popularity in his state, said: "To be honest with you, probably not."
Doug Heye, a spokesman for Steele, said the candidate, who is black, also praised Bush’s recent speech before the NAACP, economic growth and unemployment numbers among African-Americans.
"Obviously those positive comments didn’t make it into the story," said Heye, who also disputed the notion that Steele berated the president.
Rep. Ben Cardin and former congressman Kweisi Mfume are the top Democrats competing for the chance to face Steele in November for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Paul Sarbanes. The primary is Sept. 12.
In a state that favors Democrats, Steele could benefit by distancing himself from the president and his policies but also could upset Republican voters with his criticism of Bush and the GOP.
"Lt. Gov. Steele has always been an independent-minded leader for Maryland. He’s somebody who calls it like he sees it, and the people of Maryland respect him for that," Heye said.
Brian Nick, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans’ campaign committee, said: "We appreciate everything President Bush has done to help us retain our majority in the United States Senate and look forward to touting the many accomplishments of this administration including 34 straight months of job growth."
Democrats seized on Steele’s remarks.
"If Steele won’t take on Bush’s failures during a lunch with reporters, you can be sure that he won’t do so as a member of the United States Senate," Terry Lierman, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Steele caused a stir when he compared embryonic stem cell research to Nazi medical experiments. He apologized for the comment, saying, "in no way did I intend to equate the two."
Steele is the second Republican in a week to suggest that GOP candidates distance themselves from the president as the party tries to hold onto the House and Senate.
Last week, Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota told reporters: "If I were running in the state this year, you obviously don’t embrace the president and his agenda."
Thune, who dealt the Democratic Party a major blow in 2004 when he beat Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, told reporters that the Iraq war is Bush’s biggest problem. "The first thing I’d do is acknowledge that there have been mistakes made," he said.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press