Alma T. Bell, Baltimore: How will the relationship between rap mogul Russell Simmons and Michael [S.] Steele affect Steele's relationship with the religious right?

Nitkin: Steele, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, is a former Catholic seminarian who has strong moral convictions and is opposed to abortion rights. His relationship with Simmons, the founder of Def Jam records, is based on economic issues: both Steele and Simmons are vocal in their support of small black businesses. One of Steele's major campaign messages is supporting black families and businesses in creating "legacy wealth." Religious conservative voters -- a small minority in Maryland -- will almost certainly not support the Democratic Senate nominee. The question then becomes is there anything about Steele that keeps them on their hands during the election. It's doubtful that Simmons' endorsement of Steele is a development that would keep those voters home.

Doug Johnson, Baltimore: Do you think Michael Steele will win his primary election? Or will he be upset? Will Kweisi [Mfume] upset [Benjamin L.] Cardin in the [U.S. Senate race]? Is political interest waning this year because of apathy or some other reason?

Nitkin: I think political interest is very high this year and is not waning. Michael Steele will win the nomination easily. I will not make a prediction about the Democratic primary. It's too close to call.

Dave, Bel Air: On TV advertisements, Martin O'Malley claims he will freeze college tuitions, and offer more grants to students. Another ad states [Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.] raised tuition at [the University of Maryland] by 40 [percent]. How does O'Malley intend to freeze tuition and offer more grants? I'm sure the governor didn't raise tuition just to do so. That would be political[ly] unwise. I think O'Malley is "blowing" smoke again, and of course don't forget his "mirror".

Nitkin: Actually, O'Malley does not plan to freeze tuition if elected, and that's why I think the ad is misleading. We pointed out as much in a Campaign ad watch article. The ad says "freeze tuition," and the O'Malley campaign explained that that was intended to be a reference to O'Malley's support of a tuition-freeze plan offered by General Assembly Democrats during this year's session and ultimately also supported by the governor. Tuition increases came under Ehrlich during a time of fiscal distress -- they were in part driven by fiscal realities, and also by a philosophy espoused by a major Ehrlich backer, Richard E. Hug, the governor's campaign finance chairman named by Ehrlich to a position on the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.

Laurie Hanig, Rockville: Why haven't you been covering the Democratic primary race for the 4th Congressional District between Albert Wynn and Donna Edwards, which is a Maryland version of the [Connecticut Senate race between Ned Lamont and incumbent Joe Lieberman]?

Nitkin: We ran an article on the 4th Congressional District race, entitled "Primary mirrors national struggle," in Monday's paper .

Ginny Fite, Westminster: Why is Perry Sfikas not running for the 3rd District Congressional seat? He's been waiting all his life for this.

Nitkin: Perry Sfikas is a former state senator from Baltimore who decided not to seek re-election in 2002; he bowed out rather than face a fellow incumbent, Sen. George Della, after the two were put in the same district through redistricting. I haven't spoken with Sfikas, but there is certainly a crowded field for the 3rd District right now, and it is uncertain that Sfikas would be a top-tier candidate if he had decided to run.

Tom, Forest Hill: Where did O'Malley find the $58 million?

Nitkin: In 2004, city schools had an accumulated $58 million deficit, and there were concerns that the system would run out of money and would not be able to make payroll. There were weeks of intense negotiations that included the mayor and Ehrlich toward a plan that would see the state give more money to city schools to cover the deficit, in exchange for more control over city schools. After hearing concerns from parents and teachers about the perception of a state "takeover," the mayor abruptly withdrew from the deal, and instead offered the school system $42 million from the city's reserve account to patch a hole in the schools budget (the city council and school board signed off on the plan). The money has since been repaid. For more on Baltimore City schools, you can read archived Sun coverage at baltimoresun.com.

R. Scholz, Baltimore: Has anyone noticed how wrong the attorney general has been on the election issues? I guess one can conclude that the [attorney general] is either corrupt or incompetent.

Nitkin: The attorney general's office serves two roles: it advises the General Assembly when preparing laws; and defends those laws if challenged. The office had no choice but to defend the Assembly's laws on early voting. One could argue, I suppose, that lawyers for the office should have advised their client -- the Assembly - while the law was being drafted that it was susceptible to a challenge and that the constitution needed to be changed first. The state Court of Appeals threw out Maryland's early voting law recently; its full decision has yet to be published.