- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — If the Maryland legislature is a junior varsity of sorts for future members of Congress, tryouts start Wednesday for two Republican members of the state Senate battling for the chance to knock off a nine-term incumbent in Congress.

The race in Maryland’s 1st District headlines the state’s earliest-ever primaries coming up Feb. 12.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore is being challenged for the Republican nomination by state Sens. Andrew P. Harris and E.J. Pipkin. Another Republican, former orphans’ court Judge Robert J. Banks, is also in the GOP contest, and four Democrats are vying to challenge the Republican nominee.

With Mr. Harris and Mr. Pipkin serving together in the state Senate, and Mr. Gilchrest hitting school groups and Republican clubs until Congress returns Jan. 15, the 1st District race is shaping up to be the most intense primary in Maryland.

“We’re in full campaign mode,” said Mr. Pipkin, who entered the race in November. He’s using his personal fortune to pay for campaign ads and direct-mail pieces in the district, which covers the Eastern Shore and parts of the counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford.

Mr. Gilchrest, a moderate Republican seen as vulnerable because he sometimes splits with his party leadership, plans a busy push in the final weeks before the primary. He’ll speak about Iraq at two high schools and visit some Republican clubs, and he plans a Jan. 10 fundraiser in Annapolis with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, both Republicans.

Mr. Gilchrest’s chief of staff, Tony Caligiuri, said the support of such well-known party leaders should show GOP loyalists that Mr. Gilchrest is still very much a Republican, although he sometimes disagrees with President Bush, especially on the war.

“Newt Gingrich has got a lot of credibility with the conservative base. It sends the message that Wayne is a good member of Congress and needs to stay in Congress,” Mr. Caligiuri said.

The primary fight could spill over to state business because Mr. Pipkin and Mr. Harris must compete to unseat Mr. Gilchrest while serving together in the Senate. Other Republicans in the Senate are divided over the race. Two Republican state senators in the congressional district have backed Mr. Harris, but state Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican, backed Mr. Pipkin.

The two candidates sit less than 10 feet apart in the Senate chamber. Republicans’ divided loyalties may make the first few weeks of the session, usually a ho-hum time in the state Capitol, more interesting.

Mr. Harris and Mr. Pipkin insist the race won’t affect business in Annapolis. “I don’t think there’s going to be a spillover,” Mr. Harris, Baltimore and Harford Republican, said recently, but even if they don’t challenge each other publicly, it’s likely the two senators will seek during the session to polish their images as more conservative than Mr. Gilchrest.

“I’ll continue being a leader on issues that matter to me,” such as smaller government and opposition to abortion, Mr. Harris said.

Mr. Pipkin vowed the same, saying he’d focus on problems of electricity deregulation and push for the state to revisit some tax increases.

“We’re going to focus on doing the job the people sent us to Annapolis to do,” Mr. Pipkin said.

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