Steele expected to form exploratory panel


Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele is expected to announce today the formation of an exploratory committee that would be his first step in seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul S. Sarbanes, a source familiar with Steele's candidacy said.

The announcement has been expected for several weeks, as state and national Republicans have continued to encourage Steele to enter the race. Leading Republicans say Steele has the best chance of capturing a position last held by the GOP in 1987, when Sen. Charles McC. Mathias retired.

"I think Michael will make a great U.S. senator if and when he decides to run," state party Chairman John Kane said last night. Kane said he was not familiar with Steele's timetable.

Neither Steele nor his spokeswoman could be reached for comment.

After Sarbanes' announcement in March that he would not seek re-election, Republican leaders contacted Steele, whose prominence in the national spotlight swelled after a speech at the Republican National Convention last summer.

The potential candidacy of Steele, an African-American lawyer and former seminarian who has never been elected to office on his own, is attractive to a national party looking to broaden its appeal among minority groups.

Party officials have told Steele that he should have no problem raising the $15 million that strategists say is needed.

Steele is not expected to face primary opposition if he runs for Senate, although his candidacy would create a vacancy for lieutenant governor. State Housing and Community Development Secretary Victor L. Hoskins, who also is black, recently told a political gathering in Annapolis that Ehrlich is considering him.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Kweisi Mfume, former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and socialist activist A. Robert Kaufman have entered the Senate race.

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