An excited crowd of at least 100 squeezed into the front section of Flaps Restaurant in Potomac on Wednesday for a chance to meet Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele (R) and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani (R).
Steele is the Republican candidate running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Paul Sarbanes (D). The event was hosted by Women of Steele, whose members from across the state donned blue t-shirts emblazoned with their group name.
“We were just in the neighborhood, and I heard there were some strong women in the house,” said Steele as the crowd cheered. He celebrated “the latest Gonzales poll,” which he said shows him just four points behind U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), a frontrunner on the Democratic side.
Cardin, former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, and 16 others are competing for the Democratic nomination. Local candidates include successful entrepreneur Josh Rales of Potomac and American University historian Allan Lichtman of Bethesda.
Giuliani noted that the country is “coming up on the fifth anniversary of September 11” and said that Steele would help protect the nation from terrorism.
“September 11th is not over,” said Giuliani, an expected contender for the 2008 presidential election. “People like that still want to attack us. That’s what we found out in London a few weeks ago — they’re trying to do an attack to kill more Americans.
“That’s just the reality we live with. To deal with it you have to be on the offense against terrorism,” he continued. “To get us through a time like that, we need leaders — people who have common sense who can stand up and support what’s necessary.”
STEELE AND GIULIANI present themselves as moderate Republicans. Steele’s campaign Web site does not mention his party affiliation, and in July he made headlines for anonymously criticizing President Bush and then downplaying the statements after he was identified as the source. Giuliani is a moderate on social issues such as homosexuality and abortion.
At the event in Potomac, the staunchly conservative crowd urged the politicians toward a more partisan demeanor.
Giuliani began, “If we want to deal with the root causes of terrorism: oppressive governments, leaders who blame their problems on others —”
“So the Democrats,” interrupted one man as the audience laughed.
“Republicans and Democrats have the same objectives,” Giuliani responded. “Democrats are loyal Americans and Republicans are loyal Americans….
“[But] I think we have better answers,” he added with a smile.
THE POLITICIANS MINGLED briefly with supporters after their speeches.
“I think [Steele] is the best candidate [for Senate],” said Laura Edson of Potomac. “He’s a very honest person, he studied to be a priest, he’s a family man and he’s very interested in education.”
“I think he’s an incredible proponent of strength for African-American males,” said Karen Taylor of Bethesda, a retired teacher who worked in Montgomery County schools. “I feel very strongly about the leadership he offers. I think he really represents the Michael Jordan of government for this area.”
Giuliani was a crowd pleaser.
“It couldn’t be more fitting that I got to shake hands with Giuliani,” said Rob Sisco of Potomac. “I was so honored because this man is the great American hero in my opinion. Seeing him on the impending anniversary of 9/11 gave me goose bumps.”