- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2003

GRASONVILLE, Md. — As he travels throughout the state, E.J. Pipkin says the first question a lot of people ask is “Who … are you?”

Mr. Pipkin’s comment was intended as a little joke at his expense, and it got a hearty laugh from supporters who gathered in mid-October at a Queen Anne’s County motel to hear him announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski.

But as Mr. Pipkin himself acknowledges, there is a lot of truth behind the joke. Except for Republican Party activists and constituents in his Eastern Shore state Senate district, most Marylanders probably don’t know his name.

Mr. Pipkin, 46, is a political newcomer with nine months of experience as a state senator representing four upper Eastern Shore counties. His only previous public exposure came as a result of a high-profile role he played in a successful battle to halt dumping of mud dredged from shipping channels into the Chesapeake Bay north of the Bay Bridge.

He credits that fight, where he sided with environmentalists against the administration of then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the shipping industry, with launching his political career.

There is a parallel with Miss Mikulski’s career in politics. She was elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1971 after helping lead a fight to block construction of a highway through historic southeast Baltimore neighborhoods, including Fells Point.

Mr. Pipkin, the son of an electrician and a cafeteria worker, grew up in the Dundalk area of Baltimore County. After earning a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Virginia, he moved to New York. There, he earned millions of dollars as an investment banker arranging financing for business acquisitions and expansions.

In 1999, he moved back to Maryland with his wife, Alisa, and three children and settled into a waterfront home in Queen Anne’s County. Then he learned Mr. Glendening planned to use open Bay water off the county’s shoreline as a dump site for muck dredged from shipping channels. Mr. Pipkin set to work full time trying to block the dumping.

“It was a bad idea. We put together a grass-roots campaign to stop it,” he said.

The lobbying campaign brought Mr. Pipkin to Annapolis, where he met a lot of legislators and environmental activists. A race for the state Senate against Democratic incumbent Walter M. Baker, who supported the governor’s dumping plan, naturally followed from Mr. Pipkin’s success in halting the dredging plan.

Mr. Pipkin spent almost $600,000 of his money in the race against Mr. Baker, which he won with more than 62 percent of the vote. But he said he also invested a huge amount of time in the campaign.

“I knocked on over 10,000 doors. I stood on the back of a pickup truck sign-waving day after day after day,” he said. “My wife and I averaged 15 events a weekend.”

State Republican Party leaders recruited Mr. Pipkin for the U.S. Senate race, hoping he will be willing to help finance his campaign with personal funds and wage the same activist campaign against Miss Mikulski that he did against Mr. Baker.

Delegate Richard A. Sossi, a Queen Anne’s Republican who introduced Mr. Pipkin at the campaign kickoff, said he can’t finance the campaign on his own, but can “jump-start” it with personal funds.

Mr. Pipkin refuses this early in the campaign to say how much money he needs to raise or how much of his personal funds he will commit to defeating Miss Mikulski.

But he promises the same type of daily, grass-roots campaigning he conducted in his state Senate race.

During the first few days of his campaign, Mr. Pipkin is not talking about where he stands on important issues beyond a pledge to protect the Chesapeake Bay, improve education and bring more jobs to Maryland. He won’t talk about guns, abortion or the war on Iraq, saying there will be plenty of time for that later on, and declines to classify himself politically as a centrist or conservative.

“I think it’s very hard to label somebody, even if it is me. When I look at the range of subjects and my opinions on those subjects, I don’t think it’s necessarily easy to fit into any one category,” he said.

Mr. Pipkin was a Democrat until he watched the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York’s Madison Square Garden. “I sat there for four days and listened to all the various players make speeches,” he said. “At the end of that convention, I decided the Democratic Party had left me behind,” particularly on economic issues.

While Mr. Pipkin won’t classify himself politically, Democratic state Sen. John C. Astle of Anne Arundel County, who sits on the Finance Committee with Mr. Pipkin, said he sounds at times during committee deliberations like a centrist Democrat. Mr. Astle and the committee chairman, Thomas M. “Mack” Middleton of Charles County, said he is an energetic person and a hard worker.

Mr. Pipkin gets high praise from Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus of Somerset County. “I think he’s a brilliant legislator. I’m not just saying that to drum up support for him,” Mr. Stoltzfus said. “He’s very aggressive about what he believes in.”

Mr. Stoltzfus describes Mr. Pipkin as “a fiscal conservative, but not always a social conservative.”

Mr. Pipkin said taking on Miss Mikulski is a difficult task, but he wouldn’t enter the race if he didn’t think he could win.

Miss Mikulski, 67, served 10 years in the House of Representatives before she was elected in 1986 to the Senate. In a recent poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing, an Annapolis-based company, 64 percent of voters statewide questioned said they approved of the job she was doing and 13 percent disapproved, with the rest having no opinion. Miss Mikulski got 71 percent of the vote in her re-election campaigns in 1992 and 1998.

Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, offers a blunt assessment of Mr. Pipkin’s chances. “There is no scenario where E.J. Pipkin can defeat Barbara Mikulski, and Republicans know it,” he said.

John Kane, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, said he recruited Mr. Pipkin and Montgomery County businessman Josh Rales to challenge Miss Mikulski. Mr. Rales decided not to run.

Mr. Pipkin has the advantage of being an elected official who “has gone through the rigors of a campaign [and] knows how to be managed,” Mr. Kane said.

He will be able to raise enough money to run a competitive race and will have the advantage of running on the ballot with a popular Republican president and with the support of a popular Republican governor, Mr. Kane said.


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