State Sen. Jim Brochin spent the summer beating back a Democratic primary challenge from the left. Now, he's facing what's perhaps an even tougher fight from the right.
Because of state redistricting that left his northern Baltimore County district with considerably more Republicans, Brochin, a 12-year incumbent Democrat, is spending his evenings attempting to appeal to conservatives — stressing his votes against many of Gov. Martin O'Malley's tax and fee increases if not his vote for the governor's gun control law.
"I've voted against 42 of Governor O'Malley's 44 tax increases," Brochin, 50, told Republican voters as he went door to door in Timonium last week. "Gas. Sales. Corporate. Tolls. Every single tax — unless it had to do with protecting the environment — I've opposed."
Brochin's latest opponent in District 42 is a self-described political novice who boasts the backing of the state's highest-ranking Republican. Dr. Tim Robinson, 61, is a retired anesthesiologist from St. Joseph Medical Center. Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland's only Republican in Congress, recruited him to run against Brochin.
Robinson makes a two-part pitch: He argues that the Maryland Senate is in need of a doctor's view on a myriad of medical issues — a point he underscores by ripping the state's botched implementation of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. His other point: Republicans should not mistake Brochin's independent streak for true conservative views.
"This district should be represented by a real conservative, not a political chameleon," Robinson said. "He tells people in the district he's something other than what he is. Ninety-four percent of the time he votes with the administration."
It's no secret that some powerful Democrats — including the governor — have tried to unseat Brochin, who calls himself the most independent member of the Maryland Senate.
In June, Brochin survived a challenge from former state Del. Connie DeJuliis. who was backed by O'Malley and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. She argued that Brochin was no true Democrat — and that he had damaged so many relationships with powerful Democrats that he could no longer be an effective lawmaker.
Nevertheless, nearly 70 percent of Democratic primary voters cast their ballots for Brochin.
"They want somebody who is not a rubber stamp for Martin O'Malley or the next governor," Brochin said. "I don't do political party. I do policy. I vote like an independent."
The redrawn district puts conservative-leaning parts of northern Baltimore County, such as Hereford, in with more liberal-minded parts of Towson. The result is a mix of voters with vastly different points of view on matters from gun control to same-sex marriage. While there are about 7,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district, Republicans have been the bigger vote-getters in recent delegate races there.
After seeing how many Republicans voters state officials put in the district, Robinson and GOP leaders felt the area was now a place where the party could pick up a strategically important win. Robinson believes a decent percentage of the Democrats in northern Baltimore County are what he calls "soft Democrats," who possess conservative views.
"I'd like to see us pick up four more seats," he said. "If we have a third of the seats in the Senate, we can force a conversation."
Brochin acknowledges that the redrawn district makes the campaign a "very challenging, close race," though Robinson casts himself as the underdog.
Ironically, Robinson says, DeJuliis' many endorsements in the primary now give Brochin an advantage as he goes door-knocking at Republican households.
"He was vilified enough by Kevin Kamenetz, [Senate President] Mike Miller and our esteemed governor to make him seem much more conservative than he really is," Robinson said. "He's been campaigning in this area for 14 years. He's well known, and he's very good going to door to door. But I don't think Jim Brochin tells people who he really is."
Brochin has a significant fundraising advantage. He has $150,000 on hand, including $70,000 that he lent himself. His recent donors include Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger.
Robinson has $39,000 on hand, including $4,000 from Harris and $1,000 from the National Rifle Association's Political Victory Fund.
One donor, Hasan Abed, a doctor at St. Joseph's who worked with Robinson, notes that there is only one member of the General Assembly who is a doctor — and none in the state Senate.
"I feel [Robinson] can be a strong advocate for the providers and consumers of health care," Abed said. "That is a voice that is completely missing at the State House."
As he went door to door last week in Timonium, Brochin targeted only independents and Republicans, who railed against tax increases and approved of Brochin's support for a federal investigation of the state's health care exchange. Ben Brooks, a Republican, agreed to let Brochin put up signs next to his large "Larry Hogan for Governor" signs. Ray Curran, another Republican, called to Brochin from down the block to wish him well.
"He's got his act together," Curran said.
Brochin has also made inroads in Hereford, where Robinson acknowledges that the incumbent has won over voters with his opposition to a controversial school proposal. Connie Wittich, of the education advocacy group Hereford Works, says she and others in the Hereford area are solidly in Brochin's corner after he stood up to Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance over a uniform school schedule he demanded for Hereford High School.
"He's been instrumental with helping us on the schedule change," Wittich said. "Anything we need he's helped us with."
But Robinson notes that the parents have yet to win the schedule battle. He says Brochin frequently shows constituents he cares about their problems but doesn't get any real results in fixing them.
"He's part of the problem," Robinson said. "He's not part of the solution."
Job: Three-term state senator; insurance broker
Family: Single, one daughter
Dr. Tim Robinson
Job: Retired anesthesiologist, St. Joseph Medical Center
Family: Married, four children
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