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Candidate Profile: U.S. Senate: Ben Cardin (D)

Posted on November 03, 2006:

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The County Times Newspaper

The Southern Calvert Gazette Newspaper

By LETICIA LINN, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON - More than once, Ben Cardin has been called an "old-fashioned" politician for putting his family first and exemplifying handshake integrity. Cardin is betting on those throw-back values to win him election to the U.S. Senate in an age of financial and sexual scandals.

Serious in his dark blue suit, Cardin walks around Bethesda introducing himself to strangers, even when the $6 million he raised for campaigning could have let him avoid that work. But Cardin likes the "retail politics" way of approaching voters.

Although he spent more than 20 years in the General Assembly and another 20 in Congress, Cardin, 63, hardly calls attention to himself. He never lost an election, and yet, he knows this race is different from any other.

Competition has been tough since the primary, when he beat former congressman Kweisi Mfume, and introduced himself statewide after representing Maryland's 3rd Congressional District for almost 20 years. But Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is a different rival.

"My campaign has been trying to draw a contrast as to where Michael Steele stands on the issues and where I do," Cardin said.

"So for me to say that he supports Bush's Social Security proposal is a fact. He doesn't say it," he said. "Voters need to know that, or that he is opposed to expansion of embryonic stem cell research. His campaign doesn't say it, so I need to bring that up."

Cardin also has to gather black voters behind his candidacy at a time when the Democratic Party is presenting a ballot with mainly white male top candidates and Steele is angling to become the first black senator of Maryland.

"Minority voters are concerned about universal health coverage, they are concerned about moving forward in embryonic cell research, women right of choice, education being a national priority, they are concerned about protecting Social Security," Cardin said. "They know that Michael Steele and Bush have one deal, and I have a different deal. I support theirs, so I am going to do well."

But the support he cares most about is Myrna Edelman Cardin's. He met his wife in elementary school, and they started dating in high school. They were married almost 42 years ago, and they still hold hands.

"Things were always happening if Ben was around," she said. "Ben has a sense of adventure . . . There is always a sense of what is there next that we can do."

The couple has a daughter, Deborah, who works at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, is married and has two daughters, Madeline, 6, and Julia, 2.

Cardin and Myrna had a son, Michael, who graduated from law school and loved to talk politics with his father. He killed himself when he was 30, in March 1998.

It was one of the toughest moments for the family, said Robert Rombro, Cardin's friend since high school. "They are incredibly strong people," he said. "They tried to move forward, they tried to live their life."

His family and his Jewish faith helped Cardin to continue. Religion is a key element in his life, and he tries to be home every Friday night when his family and his brother Howard's family gather for dinner, said Rombro.

One night during a fund-raising dinner, Cardin received a call from one of his granddaughters and left everything to attend her, recalled Myrna. She wanted to tell him that she had lost a tooth.

"That's Ben," Myrna said. "I know that we always come first."

Cardin comes from a family with tradition in local politics. His father, Meyer, his closest adviser who died last year, was a member of the House of Delegates and an associate judge of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City.

As a high school student, Cardin was in the top 10, remembered Rombro. At University of Maryland School of Law, he was first in his class, but almost no one knew it, said Jim Smith, a friend who helps him with campaign strategies.

"He is a very strong individual, he is quite an asset, he is very bright in a low-key way," Smith said. "His style is very unusual; it's all about work."

Cardin was still studying when he was elected to the House of Delegates. At age 30, he became the youngest speaker of the House, a position that allowed him to work on ethics legislation, education and the tax system.

People like Ken Harris, then president of a Parent-Teacher Association in a Baltimore elementary school, went to Cardin for help in educational topics because he was a good listener and accessible. Harris said that would not change if he becomes senator.

"He will continue to have his feet on the ground," Harris said. "I take Ben Cardin over any charismatic politician any day, or any stylish, appealing-type person, because Ben is substance."

Cardin was elected to represent Congress in 1987, where he worked on health care and retirement system, among other issues, and he is a member of the prestigious Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax legislation and trade.

Robert Lipitz, then working in the health care business, said that Cardin "generally, but not always" supported their positions.

"You can't bring Ben a request for a political favor that is not supported substantially by why it is the right thing to do," Lipitiz said. "He is a man of such integrity that I know he would say no."

One of Cardin's most exiting moments was being lead Democrat on the commission that investigated the House "check-kiting" Bank scandal, said Myrna Cardin. The commission later decided a bipartisan punishment for Newt Gingrich, then the Republican House Speaker, who used tax-deductible money for political purposes and provided inaccurate information to House investigators.

One of his most difficult moments came when he had to decide to vote against the war in Iraq.

"He thinks it through. I can tell if I am looking at him. He is a thinker," Myrna said.

Campaigning took Cardin away from his other passions, like hiking and biking. He misses being outdoors almost as much as taking photos. For his birthday Oct. 5, his family gave him a digital frame that shows his photos.

Cardin said he is surprised by the intensity of the campaign and is relieved to know that if he wins, he will have six years before campaigning again.

"In the Senate you have a better chance to set relationships and make real results, get things done," he explains.

After the election, Myrna wants Cardin to take off the two cell phones he has been wearing on his hips for the past 19 months -- one for Congress, the second for the campaign -- and turn them off for at least 72 hours.

"I am starting with 72 because I am guessing I will have to negotiate," she said. "That's not too much to ask."

Benjamin Louis Cardin

Age: 63

Party: Democrat

Experience: Representative for Maryland's 3rd Congressional District since 1987; lead Democrat on the Human Resources Subcommittee, 1999 to 2005; chairman of the Special Study Commission on Maryland Public Ethics Law by the MD General Assambly, 1998; co-chairman of the Bipartisan Ethics Task Force in the House of Representatives, 1997; Maryland House of Delegates, 1967-1986 and speaker from 1979-1986; chairman of the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee, 1974-1979.

Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Pittsburgh; University of Maryland School of Law.

Family: Wife, Myrna; daughter, Deborah; two grandchildren, Madeline and Julia. A son, Michael, died in 1998.

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