Paul H. Rappaport, a former Howard County police chief who has failed twice in statewide election races, launched a Republican bid yesterday to unseat Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes next year.
"I am running to give Maryland a visible U.S. senator who will be responsive to the citizens of our great state," Rappaport said, taking a swipe at the four-term incumbent during a campaign announcement in Pikesville.
Rappaport, 65, a lawyer from Ellicott City, was joined at the Pikesville Hilton by members of his family and a small group of supporters, including former GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey. Rappaport ran for lieutenant governor on Sauerbrey's ticket in 1994, when she narrowly lost her first bid for governor to Democrat Parris N. Glendening.
In an interview, Rappaport said he was undaunted by his unsuccessful bids for lieutenant governor and for state attorney general last year, when he fell far short of unseating Democratic incumbent J. Joseph Curran Jr.
Rappaport said the public exposure he received from those campaigns aided his showing in a recent poll indicating he is the front-runner for the GOP nomination to challenge Sarbanes next year.
A telephone survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. found that 45 percent of likely GOP voters in the March 7 primary backed Rappaport, compared with 17 percent for Robin Ficker, a former state delegate from Montgomery County who is the only other declared candidate for Sarbanes' Senate seat.
The same poll suggested Sarbanes should easily win re-election, with 57 percent of respondents backing him and 30 percent supporting Rappaport.
But Brad Coker, managing director for Mason-Dixon, said Sarbanes is less popular than the state's other senator, Barbara A. Mikulski, who registered 75 percent support in similar polls.
"If there is a vulnerable senator in Maryland, he's the one," Coker said.
Rappaport said he plans to focus for now on winning the GOP nomination, but his campaign slogan -- "A Senate seat is a terrible thing to waste" -- is aimed squarely at Sarbanes.
"What has he done to be responsible to the people of Maryland, other than give away the Panama Canal?" Rappaport asked. He said he supports reducing taxes, especially the marriage penalty and inheritance tax, and giving local governments control over how federal education funds are spent.
Republicans, who are trying to rebuild their party after Sauerbrey's crushing loss to Glendening in the governor's race last year, hope a strong GOP presidential candidate, such as Texas Gov. George W. Bush, will sway traditionally Democratic Maryland voters next year.
"If it's a Republican year, or George W. is popular, lightning can strike," said Pat McDonough, a conservative talk-show host on WCBM radio.
Ficker said he has no plans to alter his statewide campaign as a result of Rappaport's entry into the race, and he dismissed the unfavorable poll results.
"Word of mouth is more important, and individual voters are more important than any political pollsters posing as know-it-alls," the Bethesda lawyer said.
Sarbanes had no reaction to Rappaport's announcement. "We will address the Republican nominee when the primary's over next March," said Sarbanes spokesman Jesse Jacobs.