Waiting for Pipkin, 2010 edition
Bob Ehrlich isn't the only Maryland Republican that both parties are closely watching these days. Will he duck a rematch against a foe that got the better of him last time? Or give it another try?
The same questions apply to E. J. Pipkin.
The state senator, whose district takes in four counties on the Eastern Shore, has been tantalizing--some would say terrorizing--fellow Republicans by refusing to say whether or not he'll jump into the race for the congressional seat currently held by endangered freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil.
A contested primary would complicate Republican efforts to pick up a second House seat in Maryland. Republican Wayne Gilchrest won the First District in 1990 and kept it until 2008, when state Sen. Andy Harris of Baltimore County launched a successful challenge from the right, with help from the conservative Club for Growth.
Pipkin, a late entry in the 2008 Republican primary for the same seat, is widely believed to be eager for a grudge match. If this year's primary were to turn ugly, it might hurt Ehrlich, a Harris supporter, who wants a united party behind him if he's the Republican nominee for governor.
National Republicans have been trying to steer money and momentum toward Harris, who narrowly lost to Kratovil in the general election. Their theory: pump up Harris, who appears to be the strongest primary candidate, in hopes of heading off an internecine fight.
Ehrlich has said that he personally tried to play peacemaker in the First District. But Pipkin has steadfastly refused to go away.
"Getting closer" is all he's saying about the timetable for his go/no-go announcement. Like Harris, he would have to surrender his current position in the General Assembly to run for Congress, since both seats are up this year.
Pipkin's ability to self-finance, or at least heavily subsidize, a congressional campaign is one reason he can take his time in making an announcement. He spent $1 million of his own money last time.
Harris has been touting his improved fund-raising operation, but he'd get outspent if Pipkin put as much money in as he did last time.
The prospect of having a broke nominee (Harris) going into a short general election campaign in the fall gives national Republicans hives.
If it happens, the GOP will almost certainly have to send more campaign money than they'd like into Maryland One, as close to a sure-thing pickup for Republicans as any place in the country this year, instead of investing those same dollars on riskier challenges elsewhere. And that would be a boost for Democrats, who'll need all the help they can get to prevent substantial losses in the first midterm election of Barack Obama's presidency..
The filing deadline isn't until July 5 for the primary election, scheduled for Sept. 14.
Watch this space for E. J.'s next move.