The rough-and-tumble Republican primary in Maryland's 1st Congressional District got wilder yesterday with the entry of a second state senator in the race against incumbent Wayne T. Gilchrest.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a second-term Republican from the Eastern Shore, officially announced his candidacy yesterday, bringing a maverick streak - and a personal fortune earned on Wall Street - to a race that has gained national attention. Sen. Andrew P. Harris has been running since the spring, raising more than $500,000 this year and pulling in the support of national conservative advocacy groups, as well as former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Pipkin said his campaign will focus on cutting taxes, reducing federal spending, stopping illegal immigration, and reforming the nation's utility regulations.
"Clearly, I wouldn't be getting in the race if the constituents hadn't told me it's time for a change," Pipkin, 51, said. "They want an Eastern Shore conservative, someone who has fought for them."
Harris, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties, has been working to frame the race as a contrast between his record as one of the state Senate's most conservative members and Gilchrest's as a moderate. But Pipkin complicates the picture. He shares many of Gilchrest's environmentalist views, helped lead the fight against Gov. Martin O'Malley's tax increase proposals and sharply criticized BGE and the state's other utilities as deregulation led to higher electric prices.
Harris' campaign manager issued a statement reiterating a claim that Gilchrest and Pipkin are "two tax-and-spend peas in a liberal pod."
Gilchrest spokesman Tony Caligiuri said the congressman respects Pipkin and expects him to provide a serious challenge.
"As far as the effect on the election, Wayne is running on his record, and that doesn't change," Caligiuri said.
Three other Republicans are in the race: Joe Arminio, Robert J. Banks and John L. Walter. Three Democrats are running for the seat.
The Harris-Gilchrest race had been shaping up as a contentious one. The Club for Growth, a national conservative group, has helped Harris raise tens of thousands of dollars and ran a television ad critical of Gilchrest's fiscal record. A moderate group, Republicans Who Care, responded with an ad criticizing Harris' record on the environment and issues important to the Eastern Shore.
What effect Pipkin will have on the race is unclear, said Maryland Republican consultant Kevin Igoe.
"First of all, philosophically and in terms of incumbency, you would say it divides up whatever anti-Gilchrest vote there is," said Igoe, who is not working with any candidate in the race. "However, then looking at it geographically, this district is very divided geographically, Eastern Shore-Western Shore, and Pipkin is very much associated with the [Eastern] Shore, as is Gilchrest."
The contest is being closely watched nationally, said David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report. But he said it's likely that Pipkin's entry is good news for Gilchrest.
"Primaries involving incumbents are ... either a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down on their performance in office," Wasserman said. "Wayne Gilchrest is essentially facing a referendum in this primary, and to the extent there are multiple candidates splitting the vote, he has a tremendous advantage."
Although Pipkin is entering the race less than three months before the Feb. 12 primary, he does have some significant advantages. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, building up his name recognition and political contacts before losing decisively to Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski. Pipkin largely relied on his personal fortune to finance that race, and he indicated yesterday that he is prepared to spend his own money on this campaign as well.
"One of the reasons campaigns are so long is it takes a while to put the money together," Igoe said. "E.J. has a significant advantage. ... He's got some of his own money, and he's got a donor file."
Gilchrest, 61, is a decorated Vietnam veteran and one-time teacher who was elected in 1990. His 1st Congressional District covers the Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties.
The congressman last faced a challenge from within his party in 2004, when he collected 62 percent of the vote against state Sen. Richard F. Colburn, a conservative Republican.