Forget those "My friend, Ben" TV ads that show Maryland's junior senator working on a waterman's boat or loading luggage from a passenger jet like he was on a Southwest ground crew. That's the sort of stuff political consultants dream up. Sen. Ben Cardin deserves re-election for what he really is -- a canny and knowledgeable veteran lawmaker whose views on the critical issues of the day are closely in line with a majority of Maryland residents. Few in Annapolis, where he served as speaker of the House, or in Congress, where he has held office since 1987, can match his detailed understanding of unemployment insurance, Medicare and health care insurance, Social Security or tax policy. He is a professorial as he is politician, perhaps more so since his rumpled, modest style does not make him the darling of Sunday morning talk shows. With Washington poised to take up entitlement programs, a necessity given their impact on the federal deficit, Mr. Cardin's presence in the Senate is required now more than ever.