Last year's GOP challenger to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) announced yesterday that he is seeking his party's nomination to take on Maryland's senior U.S. senator, Paul S. Sarbanes (D), who is preparing to seek a fifth term in next year's election.

Retired Timonium surgeon Ross Z. Pierpont, 82, a veteran of more than a dozen unsuccessful political campaigns, said he wanted to focus on "cradle-to-grave" health care and guarantee affordable coverage for all Americans.

"We have the best health care in the world. We have the worst health care system," he told reporters during a brief announcement at the State House in Annapolis.

Pierpont beat out 10 other candidates for the Republican nomination to challenge Mikulski last year. His rivals were largely political novices who had little name recognition.

Pierpont was well known to GOP voters because of his past runs for office, beginning in 1966, when he ran against Spiro T. Agnew for the gubernatorial nomination. Since then, he has rarely missed an election cycle, including runs for governor and mayor of Baltimore.

As he did last year, Pierpont is emphasizing universal health care. He wants to establish a partnership system between all health care providers that he said would reduce government's role and streamline management costs by 90 percent.

He also said he would work to improve education "through vouchers, school choice, remedial education and testing of teachers, charter schools or testing; whatever is necessary."

Other Republicans seeking the GOP nomination for Senate include Kensington freelance investigative reporter Kenneth R. Timmerman, former Howard County police chief Paul H. Rappaport and Robin Ficker, a former member of the state House of Delegates from Montgomery County.