Easier road for Mikulski

THE BALTIMORE SUN

THE FIELD of potential Republican challengers to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski has shrunk.

Joshua B. Rales, a Potomac attorney and real estate developer, said yesterday that he would not be a candidate for the Senate. He had been mulling the race for at least six months, and had been under significant pressure from state GOP Chairman John Kane to enter the race.

But Rales said yesterday that personal concerns about which he did not wish to elaborate would keep him out of the contest.

"Temporary personal considerations ... make it very difficult for the stars to align this go-round," he said. "Now is not my time, unfortunately."

A political novice and relative unknown, Rales, 45, was attractive to GOP leaders primarily because he was talking about spending up to $10 million of his own money on what he acknowledged was an uphill battle.

"It would have been a very, very difficult race, but I continue to believe it's possible to beat Barbara Mikulski," Rales said. "We are in a new era where we need new ideas."

Mikulski has not formally announced her bid for a fourth term, but her aides say she is certain to run for re-election next year.

And she will be a formidable candidate. A poll last month by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies found 53 percent of Maryland voters saying they would vote to re-elect Mikulski in November 2004, while 13 percent said they would definitely vote to replace her.

Rales held open the possibility of a future race: "I would consider it an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Maryland one day."

With Rales out, attention now turns to state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a first-term lawmaker from Queen Anne's County who rose to prominence last year by toppling former Sen. Walter M. Baker, a veteran and powerful chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Pipkin's potential candidacy received a boost last week when state Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican, the minority leader; and state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, the minority whip from Baltimore County, released an open letter urging Pipkin to run.

Stotzfus and Harris said the race against Baker "took the right combination of message and hard work to defeat the powerful incumbent, [and] it will take that same combination in 2004."

Pipkin said he was "flattered" to get the letter, and was wrapping up a "listening tour" of the state before deciding on the race.

He said that Rales' decision had no impact on whether he would run.

Report on election system bad news for board official

A detailed study released last week that uncovered myriad risks and weaknesses in Maryland's election system spells more bad news for state elections administrator Linda H. Lamone.

Top aides to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. have made no secret of their desire to replace Lamone, an appointee of the Maryland State Board of Elections who got her job under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Most members are not Ehrlich appointees, but the governor is gradually remaking the board as terms expire.

In the days leading up to the release of the much-anticipated study by Science Application International Corp., administration and other sources made it clear that the review found as much, if not more, fault with the policies and procedures of the state elections division as it did with the software behind the Diebold Election System touch-screen machines.

Maryland was on course to buy $55.6 million worth of machines before a Johns Hopkins University study questioned their security. Despite the numerous problems raised by the outside review, state officials have decided to go ahead with the purchase.

It's hard to tell just how much blame the study lays at the feet of Lamone, since about three-quarters of it was redacted.

But if state officials were looking for legal grounds on which the board could dismiss Lamone, they seem to have pages and pages worth. The governor's office had already been reviewing an attorney general's letter on how or whether a state elections administrator can be dismissed.

State elections board Chairman Gilles W. Burger would not say whether Lamone's employment would be discussed during the board's next meeting Oct. 21.

"I can't talk about that," Burger said. "I can't, and I won't."

Added Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich, in a response that most in the Annapolis press corps can recite by heart: "We don't comment on individual personnel matters."

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