- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Maryland state Sen. E.J. Pipkin has organized a formidable fund-raising team and crafted a populist platform to pose the most credible challenge to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in years, state Republican officials say.

“We are gong to talk about jobs, jobs, jobs,” Mr. Pipkin, a freshmen senator representing an Eastern Shore district, told The Washington Times yesterday. “We are going to talk about education and schools. We are going to talk about the Chesapeake Bay.”

State Republican Party officials say Mr. Pipkin is uniquely suited for a run against Miss Mikulski, a veteran of Maryland Democratic politics who has held her U.S. Senate seat for 17 years.

Mr. Pipkin will raise enough money to deliver a statewide message that appeals to environmentalists, antitax advocates and voters concerned about the economy and education.

Mr. Pipkin, 47, grew up in the blue-collar neighborhood of Dundalk and made his fortune in the financial markets. He came to political prominence in his adopted Eastern Shore neighborhood after leading a successful citizens campaign in 1999 to ban dumping of dredge spoils in the Chesapeake Bay.

He ran for state Senate in 2002 and unseated longtime Sen. Walter M. Baker, a member of the Democratic majority leadership. Soon after the win, his party drafted him for the statewide race.

Mr. Pipkin’s decisive victory in Tuesday’s primary, defeating eight contenders with 50.8 percent of the vote, set up the contest between two activists with working-class roots.

Miss Mikulski, 67, began her political career as a neighborhood activist in East Baltimore and ascended from the City Council to the U.S. House and then the U.S. Senate.

State Democratic Party officials say they are not as worried about Mr. Pipkin’s prowess as a candidate as they are about the influence of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state’s first Republican governor since 1968.

“For the first time in 30-some years, we have a Republican governor who can go out, maybe, and assist in raising money,” said Ike Leggett, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party. “For that reason, we are not taking this race for granted.”

Mr. Leggett said Mr. Pipkin is an inexperienced candidate who brought little to the primary race besides his own money, and he is “extremely confident” of a Mikulski victory.

Mr. Leggett credited Mr. Ehrlich with boosting the viability of any Republican candidate, despite the Democrat’s 2-1 majority among voters. “We consider any opponent under today’s circumstances and conditions to be formidable and one we will not take for granted,” he said.

Kevin Igoe, a political strategist for the Maryland Republican Party, said the governor can help Mr. Pipkin in other ways. “Bob Ehrlich’s victory is a road map for how to win in Maryland,” he said.

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