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July 8, 2009

Waiting for E.J.

The First District congressional seat in Maryland is on everyone's radar screen for 2010.

A pair of powerful Marylanders, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen and House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer, will be going all out to protect one of their most vulnerable colleagues. And Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, just might want to help his party capture one of the juiciest pickup targets in the country.

The district covers mainly Republican portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, then jumps the Bay and takes in the entire Eastern Shore, one of the most conservative parts of the state. The current congressman, Democratic freshman Frank Kratovil, holds one of several dozen House seats nationwide from districts that voted for the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008.

Republican state Sen. Andy Harris of Baltimore County, who lost to Kratovil by fewer than 3,000 votes in a district that McCain carried by 20 percentage points, is already on the rematch trail. He's raising campaign funds and hoping for a clear shot at the incumbent in a year when Barack Obama's name won't be on the ballot to pump up the district's anemic Democratic vote.

Of course, Harris's primary triumph over Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest--unseating a veteran congressman in a classic conservative-moderate intraparty fight--was among the factors that helped Kratovil win. Gilchrest crossed party lines to endorse the Democrat, and in a race that close, it's easy to imagine that a divided Republican Party contributed to Kratovil's victory.

Next time around, for many reasons, Harris wants a straight path to the general election, allowing him to focus all of his time, money and effort on Kratovil.

Whether he gets it will depend, most likely, on what state Sen. E.J. Pipkin decides to do.

Pipkin was the odd man out in the 2008 Republican primary, finishing a fairly distant third behind Harris and Gilchrest. But with Gilchrest no longer a candidate, the odds will improve for Pipkin. How far they'll tilt in his direction is part of what makes Pipkin's decision a tricky one.

The former Wall Street bond trader has deeper pockets than Harris, an obstetric anesthesiologist, and he's not afraid to spend it, even on lost causes like a 2004 challenge to Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (there went $2 million of the Pipkin fortune).

But to run in 2010, he'd have to give up his state Senate seat (so will Harris).

A new analysis of the First District race by Nathan L. Gonzales of the respected, non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report repeats what state Republicans have been saying for some time: Pipkin "may seek to avenge his loss to Harris."

Rothenberg also reports that former Del. Al Redmer of Baltimore County could decide to run. Eastern Shore Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, "viewed as a rising star," is less likely to jump into a contested primary.

But it is Pipkin who is grabbing most of the attention, as Republicans--and Democrats--wait to see if he'll get in.

The Eastern Shore state senator, whose deep pockets mean that he can afford to take his time, has not been returning phone calls from the Maryland Politics blog seeking first-hand information about his thinking.

According to the Rothenberg Report, Pipkin "is not happy about the way the primary played out last cycle." In particular, he didn't like the fact that Harris tried to tag him with the same liberal label he hung on Gilchrest, or that the Harris forces tried to tie Pipkin, a populist conservative, to Gov. Martin O'Malley, a liberal Democrat.

"If Harris and Pipkin face off, it's unclear who would have the upper hand," concludes the Rothenberg Report. It points out that the Club for Growth, which helped fund Harris' challenge against Gilchrest, has less interest in the First District race now that Gilchrest has been removed.

Democrat Kratovil "has the opportunity to solidify his position by using incumbency to demonstrate 'independence,' providing good constituent service, and raising a lot of money," the Rothenberg Report concludes. But he "doesn't have much room for error and will need to maintain an independent image to get re-elected."

Of course, Kratovil probably won't mind if the Republicans beat each other bloody in a September primary for the privilege of opposing him in November.

Rothenberg doesn't express an opinion about which Republican would stand a better chance of unseating Kratovil, but it does say that if Harris is the nominee "he'll have to do a much better job connecting with voters on the Eastern Shore."

Posted by Paul West at 9:18 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

Comments

If Andy Harris gets elected will he then attempt to have closed down all adult movie houses and adult novelty stores?
Thump on this Harris you right wwing holier than thou jackass!

So let me get Paul's point straight.

Harris lost to Kratovil in a District that McCain carried by 20 points, yet he is hoping "for a clear shot at the incumbent in a year when Barack Obama's name won't be on the ballot."

Does anyone else find that logic .. illogical?

Kratovil clearly did not ride the Obama wave into office. He won because he was a mainstream candidate in a district with a lot of common sense voters, when Harris is a candidate out of the mainstream. In that regard, nothing changes in 2010.

I don't live in District 1, so I didn't see Pipkin in action in 2008. But I do remember the '04 version of Pipkin -- the one who absolutely embarassed himself against Barbara Mikulski. Remember those awful ads? They did nothing but increase Mikulski's vote margin.

This race will get its share of attention because Kratovil is a Democrat who represents a Republican district, but neither of his potential opponents make him in anyway "vulnerable."

I loved Harris' ads during the last election..
Ad #1 Kratovil, he's liberal!

Ad #2 Kratovil, he's REALLY liberal

Ad #3 No, I really mean it! Kratovil is uber liberal!!

The baltimore sun is really going to allow a comment calling someone a jackass? Seriously?

Political handicappers are correctly highlighting Congressman Kratovil's weakness. Not only was he elected in a good Democrat year in a McCain-won district, but he did so on promises to have an independent streak.

Many go to Washington and find themselves starstruck. Frank Kratovil was one of those people. He voted against the stimulus and then President Obama invited him over for the Superbowl. He then voted for the stimulus plan.

Or recently he joked with a colleague that they were "former congressman walking" because he took a bad vote in favor of cap-and-trade. Folks familiar with cap-and-trade recognize that it will drastically increase costs, particularly energy costs. The largest effect will be on rural communities and that is why the American Farm Bureau thoroughly opposed this legislation.

The race could easily be won by Andy Harris or EJ Pipkin if either one runs a decent campaign. 2010 will be drastically different than 2008. You have lost the ultimate bogeyman, George W. Bush and you do not have a charismatic President Obama on the ticket. Frank Kratovil eeked it out with record turnout. He'll be lucky to stay in eeking distance this time against either of his potential suitors.

Really,
Freedom of Speech! And besides, have you met Andy? Sometimes the truth hurts. He legislates like he doctors - puts everyone to sleep! Someone please show me any legislation Andy writes that passes, get real. Bring it on EJ! Lets see the Real Spendfest when these two duke it out!

Kratovil is toast. Kratovil ran as a moderate. He voted for Obama's $800 billion stimulus bill that is not creating jobs. He also voted for the largest tax increase in US history. He voted for Cap and Trade!

Andy Harris will win big. No presidential elections and Republicans/Independent who voted for Kratovil are angry at his votes!

Andy will win big in Anne Arundel County and he will do much better on the Eastern Shore. He is working part-time at a hospital in Salisbury.

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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