- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2008

OCEAN CITY — Republican congressional hopeful Andy Harris says he is committed to bridging the difference between his conservative Western Shore base and voters on the Eastern Shore.

But the more liberal, environmentalist voters on the opposite banks of Chesapeake Bay might find that a bridge too far.

Jack Gillen, who invited Mr. Harris on his hour-long talk show on 101.1 WQMR-FM yesterday morning, pressed the would-be congressman on whether Mr. Harris, from Baltimore County, could win a largely Eastern Shore district.

“They have to be comfortable with me as well as my voting record over 10 years in the state legislature,” said Mr. Harris, a state senator.

Mr. Harris toured the Lower Shore yesterday as part of his campaign to reach across the Bay in order to represent the 1st Congressional District. Mr. Harris defeated nine-term incumbent Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest in February”s Republican primary by a surprising 10-point margin.

Mr. Gilchrest, a former teacher, had built an image as a likable, down-home moderate Republican with a strong record of supporting the environment.

Since then, Democrats and environmental groups — some of whom had supported Mr. Gilchrest — have attempted to paint Mr. Harris as a narrow-minded conservative out of touch with many of the issues important to Eastern Shore voters.

Mr. Harris also faces a stiff headwind from Republican defections to his Democratic opponent, Frank T. Kratovil, a Queen Anne’s prosecutor. Gilchrest Chief of Staff Tony Caligiuri and other Gilchrest staffers were among about 50 Republicans attending a Kratovil fundraiser in March.

Environmental and agricultural issues are paramount in the sprawling district, which surrounds much of the Bay and includes all of the state”s Eastern Shore.

Mr. Harris has relied on old-fashioned retail politics to overcome the perception that he is an anti-environmental Western Shore politician. He has been meeting with Rotary Clubs, Chamber of Commerce chapters and local leaders on the shore.

He began yesterday with a group of real estate agents in Berlin before meeting with Ocean City leaders to discuss law enforcement and the city”s ongoing beach replenishment efforts.

He would not estimate how many groups he has met with from the shore, saying they were “TNTC” — medical slang for “too numerous to count.”

Bernadette DiPino, Ocean City”s police chief and a Baltimore County emigre , said lifelong shore residents would welcome Mr. Harris as long as he listened to them.

“People joke here that if you sneeze in North Ocean City, somebody in South Ocean City says ‘God bless you,’ ” Mrs. DiPino said after lunch with Mr. Harris yesterday.

Some Eastern Shore officials said they believe the perceived gulf between voters on the Eastern and Western shores has been overblown.

Dennis Dare, Ocean City”s manager, who relocated in 1982 from Western Maryland, said he believes residents are receptive to any candidate who is open and friendly.

Mr. Harris joined Mr. Dare, Mayor Rick Meehan and City Engineer Terry McGean for a tour of the city’s efforts to keep the ocean from washing away the beach — a problem the city, Worcester County, the state and the federal government have spent $90 million on since the late ‘80s.

The League of Conservation Voters and other environmentalists supported Mr. Gilchrest in the primary, citing Mr. Harris”s lifetime score of 9 percent on environmental issues in the state Senate.

But Mr. Harris said he is unfazed by political attacks, adding that the league included a measure to allow early voting on their environmental score card.

“I’m a conservationist. The solution has to be through multilateral approaches,” he said.

Mr. Harris said he would convene an environmental advisory group if elected.

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