The Maryland Board of Elections' Web site indicated Wednesday that three Republicans have filed for the Senate race: Thomas J. Hampton of Anne Arundel County, Daniel Muffoletto of Howard County and Corrogan R. Vaughn of Baltimore County.
Only Charles U. Smith of Baltimore City has filed as a Democratic candidate, but six Democrats have said they're running. Many consider U.S. Rep. Benjamin Cardin and Kweisi Mfume to have the best chances at the party's nomination.
"Whichever comes out (of the primary) will be formidable ...," said Rick Hemphill, chairman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee. "My take is Cardin is a stronger candidate, but it's early."
For Steele, one benefit of a contested Democratic primary is "he can raise a lot of money and save it for the general election, which gives him a financial advantage," Hemphill said.
One Green Party candidate, Kevin Zeese of Montgomery County, is registered, the Board of Elections' Web site says.
Steele's greatest assets are his family and cultural values, said Richard Hugg, chairman of the Washington County Republican Central Committee.
"His integrity is just part of his person, his persona - his trustworthiness, his dedication to public service," Hugg said.
Philip Baker-Shenk, the Republican Central Committee's immediate past chairman, said Steele upholds the party's ideals of limited government, individual liberties, protection of freedom and economic development.
Some Republicans who represent Washington and Frederick counties in the Maryland General Assembly spent time with Steele on Wednesday as he toured and spoke at businesses.
Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, said he worked closely with Steele to pass bills giving minority-owned business more opportunities. That was "not a traditional role for a Republican to run on," Weldon said by cell phone as he accompanied Steele on Wednesday's tour.
"He got the message of what it takes to bring the Republican party from a perpetual minority status to a varied mix of styles and ideologies," Weldon said.
Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said Steele's education, experience and law practice give him bona fide credentials. "He needs to continue to get known around the state," Hafer said.
Mfume, who also is black, has served on the Baltimore City Council and as a Congressman. He was president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Cardin, who is white, has represented the Baltimore and Annapolis areas in Congress since 1987. He was a state delegate from 1967-86.
Del. John P. Donoghue, the only Democrat in Washington County's state delegation, said Steele's strongest attribute for becoming a U.S. senator is that he's articulate.
"The weak point would probably be that the state (has a) majority of two-to-one Democrats," Donoghue said.
In May, the latest month available at the Maryland Board of Elections' Web site, there were 1.7 million Democrats registered in Maryland and 900,000 Republicans.