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November 27, 2009

Andy Harris yet to shake primary threat

Things have been looking up for Andy Harris this fall. The Republican lawmaker from Baltimore County has been steadily, if quietly, preparing for a high-profile rematch against Democrat Frank Kratovil, the freshman congressman from Maryland's (mostly) Eastern Shore district.

For a variety of reasons, including the district's proximity to the nation's capital, the Kratovil re-election contest is sure to attract unusually intense media scrutiny. It will likely be viewed as a case study of the challenges Democratic incumbents are facing in the first mid-term election of Barack Obama's administration, when, history says, the president's party will lose a significant number of House seats.

The National Republican Campaign Committee, the party's main campaign arm for House races, has been tacitly backing Harris for months (though the committee doesn't usually get involved in contested primaries). A recent poll, which deserves to be viewed skeptically since it was paid for by Harris's campaign, gave the NRCC a fresh opportunity to point out that Kratovil ranks among the most endangered Democratic incumbents in the nation.

Gloomy economic forecasts of continued high joblessness throughout 2010 can only make things tougher for Kratovil, who could well be the underdog by the time of next November's vote.

Republican Harris has improved his campaign operation since narrowly losing to Kratovil in 2008, though his fundraising has been less than stellar and Kratovil is continuing to stockpile cash.

Still, what's not to like if you are Andy Harris, a darling of the national party in a race against a highly vulnerable incumbent Democrat?

Answer: the threat of another bitter primary fight that, for whatever reason, you can't quite shake.

State Sen. E. J. Pipkin, a centrist Republican with considerable financial resources, continues to stalk the more conservative Harris and may become a dangerous primary opponent.

Prominent Maryland Republicans are convinced that Pipkin will enter the race. Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, a Harris backer, hinted in a recent interview that he had failed in an effort to talk Pipkin out of running and prevent a primary fight.

"I've tried to be peacemaker," Ehrlich said. "I've failed miserably to this point."

Pipkin himself has steadfastly declined to reveal his intentions, while remaining politically active in the district.

There has been speculation that Pipkin could announce his plans some time in December, though there seems to be no particular magic about that month (in fact, politicians usually try to avoid intruding on the holidays; Ehrlich, a potential candidate for governor, may well wait until early next year to announce his 2010 plans).

Harris supporters, and some neutral Republicans, believe Pipkin would have a difficult time winning a primary, with social conservatives expected to back Harris by a wide margin. Motivating moderates, who may not have the same voting intensity as Tea Party activists, would be one of Pipkin's challenges.

Regardless of how competitive Pipkin proved to be, the combination of a contested Republican primary and a late primary election date (Sept. 14, 2010) would, at the very least, complicate matters considerably for Harris, if he won the Republican nomination.

He'd have very little time to restock his campaign bank account for the seven-week general election contest against Kratovil. The national party would come to Harris's aid with heavy financial support, though there will be plenty of competition for that money from dozens of other Republican challengers around the country. Whether Ehrlich decides to run, or not, will also affect Republican turnout in the November election.

Republicans remember only too well what happened in 2008, when a nasty primary fight unseated moderate Republican incumbent Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (who endorsed Kratovil) and weakened Harris to the point that he was incapable of winning. Harris had almost nine months after the February primary to patch things up inside the Republican Party but couldn't, and he lost on the same day that Republican nominee John McCain carried the district by nearly 20 percentage points over Obama.

Obama, naturally, won't be on the ballot next fall, which will shrink Democratic turnout everywhere, including in the First District (history suggests that Republican turnout won't drop by as much), complicating Kratovil's task. That's good news for Republicans, assuming that the Republican nominee doesn't face another mutiny from supporters of a losing primary candidate.

Some Republicans play down the notion that a party split cost them the First District seat last time. They maintain that Harris would be a congressman today, were it not for a Libertarian candidate from the Eastern Shore, Richard Davis, who siphoned off enough votes to assure a Republican defeat.

Davis, a dentist from Hurlock, in Dorchester County, got more than 8,800 votes and Harris lost by less than 2,900 last year. And he will be on the ballot again in 2010 as the nominee of the Libertarian Party of Maryland in the First District congressional election.

National analysts are already predicting that an angry electorate will punish both Democrats and Republicans next year by backing third party and independent candidates instead. Such forecasts, often made over the years, seldom pan out.

Still, with Pipkin lurking on the sidelines, a third-party candidate already headed for the ballot and Kratovil getting 11 more months to persuade his constituents that he's earned another term, the ingredients of a close race may be falling into place, and Harris can hardly take the election for granted.

Posted by Paul West at 5:54 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010


Pipkin is the epitome of a political hack; he stands for nothing but himself and doesn't care a whit about the people he supposedly wants to represent. His only motivation is his own narrow, personal, ambitions. He's now making noises like wants to jump into the 1st District race against Harris again. I actually doubt that he will this time, since he's got the heart about the size of a green pea, and if he runs this time and loses, he's out of political office, and probably out of politics for good.
But if he's decided that the Maryland State Senate is simply not big enough for his ego and that he’s rather be out on the street than serving in some “lesser” political office that he feels is beneath him, he may just decide to go out with a bang. If so, he may run, and if he does a primary fight will make it all the more difficult for Harris to beat the Obama-loving liberal Kratovil.
I can’t remember who mentioned this before or I’d give him credit, but the guy who figured out that Pipkin is nothing more than a gruff-talking, weak-kneed liberal that sucks up to the press like McCain did with the hope of winning their support because of his liberal voting record, had Pipkin nailed spot on.
Good luck Harris.

Wow, Marina. Don't hold back, tell us how you really feel.

Actually, as all the GOP cave dwellers (read non-moderates)are backing Harris; I guess that a vote for Pipkin is a vote for common sense. Quite frankley, the conservative GOP has driven all the moderates to be IND's or conservative Dems. They've done nothing to close the GOP rift. Harris doesn't stand a chance.........

For Harris to win, he would have to run a bettter campaign then last time.

His negative ads and name calling hurt him.

Harris must spell out what he hopes to accomplish if elected and what he would have done differently than Kratovil.
That will be Harris best chance to win.

If Harris goes back to calling Kratovil liberal and nothing else he will lose again.

People are getting tried of the labels. They want to see some leadership from our elected representatives.

What pundits and analysts always seem to overlook is that Eastern Shore voters want to be represented by an Eastern Shore home boy and centrist...not a Reagan radical from Cockeysville.

The majority of Sho'men vote for Sho'men, period.

I was once a Republican but cannot agree with everything polarizing on the Right. I could never call myself a Liberal. My occupation does call me a conservative. But what is needed most are term limits. We have all lost our faith in any elected official and the Media chooses to honor these low lifes. We threw out the totalarian (lifetime) rulers on July 4,1776 and we are right back where we started. The same term after term of lowlifes that spend all their time blaming the other guy while only trying to get themselves back in! They have all lost touch with the small business person or/and the regular working (or layed off) family just trying to survive to next year.
I will vote for whomever pushes for term limits and chooses to live up to that single promise.


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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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