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Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a nationally prominent Republican critic of former President Donald Trump, has decided not to enter the race for governor next year.
Steele’s status as a possible candidate hung over the Republican field for months.
He formed an exploratory committee in July and spent weeks discussing the pros and cons of a campaign with family. In an interview, he said “the first and last conversation you have is the most important, and that’s the one with the family — and my wife was not feeling a campaign right now.”
Steele will remain at MSNBC, where he appears regularly as a political analyst. He also has a consulting business and travels the country giving speeches.
If he had run, Steele would have entered the race as the best-known GOP candidate in the race to succeed Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who is term-limited. Steele’s decision to forgo the race would appear to provide a significant boost to state Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz, as the two would likely have competed for moderate Republican voters.
Steele’s decision increases the likelihood that Republican voters will have four choices: Del. Daniel Cox of Frederick, a conservative lawyer who has clashed with Hogan over the state’s COVID-19 response; Robin Ficker, a Montgomery County attorney and an anti-tax gadfly; Schulz, who plans to leave the administration on Jan. 11; and Baltimore County resident Joe Werner, who ran for congress in 2018 as a Democrat.
Cox was endorsed by Trump in November. Hogan announced his support for Schulz soon thereafter.
Political analyst Todd Eberly predicted that Schulz will have an easier time consolidating the Hogan wing of the party with Steele on the sidelines.
“It’s good news for Kelly Schulz. It’s probably bad news for Cox,” said Eberly, a professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “If [Cox] had any hope of emerging with the nomination, he needed multiple people running.”
Because of Steele’s animated condemnation of Trump and the fringe element of the Republican Party, “his candidacy would bring more of that Trump-world energy and Trump-world money into Maryland. The Trump folks would want to embarrass Steele,” he added. “This would have been a race where much of the oxygen was being sucked up by the back-and-forth between the Trumper and the Never-Trumper — Steele and Cox.”
Steele — who conducted a poll during his exploratory bid — discounted speculation that he and Schulz would have split the mainstream vote.
Having decided against a run, he will return to MSNBC, run his political and communications business, and continue to serve as chairman of the U.S. Vote Foundation.
“They know I’ve got the bug and they know I really remain committed to the idea of service,” Steele said of his family. “So I’ll just find another way to do that.”
“You know me. I’m going to keep it real,” he added.
In 2002, Steele became the first African-American candidate in Maryland to be elected statewide. He ran on a ticket headed by then-Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) that defeated Democrats Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Charles R. Larson in an upset.
After running unsuccessfully in 2006 for the U.S. Senate, he was tapped to lead the Republican National Committee three years later. The party made significant gains in the 2010 elections, taking back the House of Representatives and winning seven seats in the U.S. Senate.
Just before the 2020 election, Steele made national headlines when he endorsed then-Sen. Joe Biden’s bid to unseat Trump.
Steele’s considered entering the governors race for months.
He made the rounds at the Maryland Association of Counties meeting in Ocean City in August, boosting speculation that he intended to run. He said then that he would make a decision shortly after Labor Day. In October, an adviser said he would decide after the Nov. 2 elections. Then came word that he would decide over Thanksgiving weekend.
There are nine Democrats vying for their party’s gubernatorial nomination: former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, nonprofit executive Jon Baron, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, former Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, former Obama administration staffer Ashwani Jain, former Obama Education Secretary John King, former non-profit executive Wes Moore, former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez and college lecturer Jerome Segal.
Former Anne Arundel County Executive Laura A. Neuman (D) has created an exploratory committee as she weighs a potential gubernatorial bid.
Steele is the second prominent Republican to take a pass on the 2022 race for governor. In April, Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford told Maryland Matters that he had decided not to seek the post.