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Geographic Loyalty May Play Role In GOP Race

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1st Congressional District
1st Congressional District
SOURCE: | By Laris Karklis ? The Washington Post - January 29, 2008
By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

With ferocious rhetoric, pointed attack ads and more than $2 million in campaign funds, the congressional primary race in Maryland's 1st District has developed into one of the state's fiercest and most-watched contests.

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Most of the attention has focused on the Republican side, where Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a nine-term incumbent, is facing strong challenges in the Feb. 12 primary from two well-known state senators, among others.

For months, Sens. E.J. Pipkin (Queen Anne's) and Andrew P. Harris (Baltimore County) have hammered Gilchrest on his voting record, believing him to be vulnerable because of his moderate stances on several national issues, including his break with GOP leaders on the Iraq war.

Pipkin, a former Wall Street bond trader and a multimillionaire, has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaign. Harris, backed by the national political action committee Club for Growth and a cadre of state-level Republican figures, has raised more than $1 million and used the funds to try to portray Gilchrest and Pipkin in TV ads, direct mailings and debates as overly liberal.

Meanwhile, Gilchrest has defended his record as proof of how he has taken principled stances in Congress regardless of partisan politics. He has endorsements from the congressional GOP leaders, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and, just this month, President Bush.

Other, less-known, Republican contenders are author Joe Arminio and former Baltimore County Orphan's Court judge Robert Joseph Banks. (Eastern Shore lawyer John Walter Leo dropped out last month and endorsed Harris.)

On the Democratic side, Queen Anne's State's Attorney Frank M. Kratovil Jr. has won the backing of some of Maryland's most prominent Democratic officials, including Gov. Martin O'Malley and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. His fundraising has far outstripped his competitors'. The other candidates are Steve Harper, an executive for a large consumer products company; Cambridge-based lawyer Christopher Robert Robinson; and lawyer Joseph Werner.

Much of the tension in the race stems from the complicated philosophical and geographic loyalties in a district that encompasses the Eastern Shore and small portions of counties adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay, including Anne Arundel. Although there are slightly more Democratic than GOP voters registered, the district has leaned conservative and has mostly voted Republican in national races.

Because the district straddles an area divided by the Chesapeake Bay, experts watching this year's Republican primary are unsure how geographic loyalties will break: Gilchrest and Pipkin are from the Eastern Shore, and Harris is from Baltimore County on the western side.

When Pipkin entered the race, some accused him of being a spoiler, trying to split the Eastern Shore vote. Others, however, have speculated that he would split the anti-incumbent vote.

Pipkin, who points out that he has invested large sums of his fortune in the race, calls the spoiler theories nonsense. "We're in this to win. I've spent enormous time and energy on this," he said.

For months, Pipkin has promoted himself as a fiscal conservative whose priorities are reducing taxes and improving the economy. He and Harris have tried to portray themselves as strong conservatives by contrasting themselves with Gilchrest. But in recent months, the rhetoric between Pipkin and Harris has grown more bitter than their attacks on Gilchrest's record.

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