Sen. Ben Cardin (D)
Elected: 2006, term expires 2012, 1st term.
Born: Oct. 5, 1943, Baltimore .
Education: U. of Pittsburgh, B.A. 1964, U. of MD, LL.B., J.D. 1967.
Family: Married (Myrna); 2 children (1 deceased).
Elected office: MD House of Delegates, 1966–86, Speaker, 1979–86; U.S. House of Reps., 1986-2006.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1967–86; Ways & Means Committee, MD, 1974-79; Chmn., MD Legal Services Corp., 1988-95.
The junior senator from Maryland is Ben Cardin, a Democrat elected in 2006 to succeed Sen. Paul Sarbanes, a Democrat and the longest-serving Maryland senator in history. Cardin is one of the many bright politicos who came from the Jewish neighborhoods of northwest Baltimore, the son and nephew of state legislators, a man who was elected to the state House at the age of 23—as soon as he was eligible to run. After serving four years as Ways and Means chairman in Annapolis, he became House speaker in 1979, at age 35. He had an interest in running for governor; but when Barbara Mikulski, now Maryland’s senior senator, left her 3rd District House seat to run for the Senate in 1986, Cardin jumped into that race and was easily elected. In his second term in the House, Cardin got a seat on the Ways and Means Committee, where he was able to be a productive and creative legislator. He supported the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement despite strong union opposition, backed a cap on medical-malpractice damages despite trial lawyers’ opposition, and voted for normal trade relations with China after securing a rider designed to crack down on international dumping of subsidized steel in U.S. markets.
|Ben Cardin (D)||965,477||(54%)||($8,676,056)|
|Michael Steele (R)||787,182||(44%)||($8,219,686)|
|Ben Cardin (D)||257,545||(44%)|
|Kweisi Mfume (D)||238,957||(41%)|
|Josh Rales (D)||30,737||(5%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2004 House (63%), 2002 House (66%), 2000 House (76%), 1998 House (78%), 1996 House (67%), 1994 House (71%), 1992 House (74%), 1990 House (70%), 1988 House (73%), 1986 House (79%)
More than any other Democrat on the powerful tax-writing committee, he worked skillfully on bipartisan legislation at a time when few were sufficiently clever or independent enough to pursue such initiatives. The Baltimore Sun called him a “master of bipartisan lawmaking.” Along with then-Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Cardin co-sponsored the 1998 Internal Revenue Service reform law. Again with Portman, he produced in 2000 bipartisan legislation to expand 401(k) savings and other retirement plans. In 2001, when Congress enacted the Bush tax cut, it included Cardin’s provision to increase the limits for maximum IRA and 401(k) contributions. On Social Security, too, he has shown willingness to seek bipartisan reform with retirement accounts, but he was not receptive to President Bush’s proposal for creating private savings accounts in the Social Security system. Cardin has also been a workhorse on health care and welfare, but with less bipartisan success. He criticized the prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries, which Congress approved in 2003, because it failed to provide sufficient benefits for senior citizens, and he proposed an alternative to authorize the government to negotiate lower drug prices, an idea the majority Republicans adamantly opposed.
Maryland Senate seats don’t come open very often, so when one did, Cardin and 17 other Democrats filed to run. An experienced campaigner and fundraiser, Cardin began as the front-runner even though his earnest, somewhat bland demeanor raised questions about his viability as a statewide candidate. His toughest primary opponents were former Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who resigned his House seat in 1996 to chair the NAACP, and millionaire businessman Joshua Rales. Mfume and Cardin were friends—they were both elected to Congress in 1986—but Mfume and other black leaders warned that the state Democratic establishment’s support for Cardin could breed resentment among African-American voters. The primary was expensive: Cardin, Rales, and Mfume together spent more than $12 million. Cardin outspent Mfume by nearly 4-to-1, but Mfume had a compelling life story and loads of charisma, especially compared with the low-key Cardin. Rales spent heavily from his own pocket but barely registered in the polls. Cardin won 44%-41%, carrying all but two counties and Baltimore City. The win was powered in part by Cardin’s nearly 2-1 advantage over Mfume in suburban Washington’s Montgomery County, the state’s most populous county. Mfume ran best among black voters, winning Baltimore by more than 2-to-1, black-majority Prince George’s County, and southern Maryland’s Charles County, increasingly a destination for African-Americans moving in from Prince George’s.
The Republican nominee was Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, the first African-American statewide officeholder in Maryland and a candidate exceptionally well-positioned to exploit Cardin’s weaknesses. Steele combined his talent for retail politicking with quirky, unconventional ads designed to highlight his outsider status. Democrats, including Mfume, coalesced around Cardin and portrayed Steele as an inexperienced lightweight. Republicans criticized Cardin as a career pol who was closely tied to big-money special-interest groups. Without a legislative record, Steele made for an elusive target, so Cardin sought to link him to President Bush and criticized Steele for his support for the Iraq war. The issue of embryonic-stem-cell research, which uses donated eggs that have been fertilized in vitro, figured prominently in the election. Cardin ran stark ads featuring actor Michael Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, saying, “George Bush and Michael Steele would put limits on the most-promising stem-cell research.” Steele countered with an ad featuring his sister, a local doctor who revealed she had multiple sclerosis, saying Cardin was “using the victim of a terrible disease to frighten people, all for his own political gain.” Cardin won 54%-44%, in what was a tough year for Maryland Republicans. Aside from Steele’s defeat, Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich lost his re-election bid. Steele won 18 of 23 counties, carrying the Eastern Shore and western Maryland, but Cardin carried all of the key suburban counties: 52%-47% in Baltimore County (which doesn’t include the city); 54%-45% in Howard; 67%-32% in Montgomery. African-Americans voted overwhelmingly for Cardin. He won by landslide percentages in the city of Baltimore, 75%-23%, and in Steele’s home base of suburban Prince George’s County, 75%-24%. Two years later, in early 2009, Steele became the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee.
In his first year in the Senate, Cardin failed in his bid to win a seat on the influential Finance Committee, the Senate counterpart to the House Ways and Means panel. In spite of his impressive House career, he was still a freshman in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid told Cardin: “Not gonna happen.” Instead Cardin got seats on the Budget, Environment and Public Works, Foreign Relations, Judiciary, and Small Business committees.
In 2008, he unsuccessfully called for ending the use of a secret court—which gave President Bush broader surveillance powers in cases involving suspected terrorists—by sponsoring legislation that would allow the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to “sunset” in four years instead of six. Many in Congress believed that the secret surveillance constituted a threat to civil liberties. Based on his recent campaign experience, Cardin sought to make it a crime for candidates to use misleading tactics against opponents. On an important local issue, he persuaded Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty to explore alternative uses for land in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County that had been chosen as the site for a juvenile detention facility for the District of Columbia. Cardin said that despite the partisanship in the Senate, he found it easier to continue the bipartisan approach that he had used in the House. His priorities included incentives for teachers at poorly performing schools, and Chesapeake Bay cleanup, a tried-and-true issue for Maryland lawmakers. During the final weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign, Cardin made numerous appearances for Barack Obama in Jewish neighborhoods in battleground states, where he had strong credibility as a Jewish U.S. senator with a solid record of support for Israel.