PIKESVILLE – Former Howard County Police Chief Paul H. Rappaport, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1994 and attorney general in 1998, said Wednesday he will challenge Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes in 2000.
Rappaport, a Republican, said Sarbanes is vulnerable because he is out of tune with his constituents. He called the four-term incumbent “the stealth senator.”
“There’s not a county in the state I haven’t worked in,” Rappaport said. “I will be responsive to the Maryland people.”
Rappaport’s announcement comes a month after Republican Reps. Robert Ehrlich of Timonium and Constance A. Morella of Bethesda said they would not challenge Sarbanes but would focus on getting re-elected to their current seats.
The only other announced Republican candidate is Robin Ficker, a Montgomery County lawyer and former state delegate. Ficker, who has been campaigning since 1997, was undeterred by polls that showed him trailing Rappaport.
“I’m sure I’m very well known by all of the voters, regardless of party,” he said. “That is going to be reflected in the elections when I defeat and replace Mr. Sarbanes.”
A spokesman in Sarbanes’ office refused to comment on the campaign.
An October poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. had Sarbanes leading Rappaport 57 percent to 30 percent, and defeating Ficker 60 percent to 25 percent.
But far from being discouraged, Rappaport said he was encouraged by the numbers.
“A poll like that against someone who’s been office that long means that he has some negatives,” said Rappaport, adding that early polls usually give incumbents 70 percent of the vote or more.
Mason-Dixon Managing Director Brad Coker called Sarbanes’ lead comfortable, although he did say Rappaport presents a tougher challenge than Sarbanes has seen in the past.
Sarbanes beat former Tennessee Sen. Bill Brock in 1992 by a 59-41 margin. In 1988, he took 62 percent of the vote to 38 percent for Alan Keyes, then a political newcomer.
“Rappaport is a little stronger opposition for Sarbanes,” Coker said. “He’s got a couple of statewide races under his belt, so he’s not an unknown quantity to people in Maryland.”
Maryland Republican Party Executive Director Paul Ellington agreed that Rappaport’s recent campaigns will help him against Sarbanes.
“Paul [Rappaport] certainly has been more in touch with the people of Maryland than Sarbanes has,” Ellington said. “He has statewide name recognition.”
The Republican nominee will face a daunting fund-raising task for the general election. Sarbanes already has more than $704,000 cash on hand. Pat McDonough, a volunteer adviser to Rappaport, said the campaign’s goal is to raise $3 million for the election.
But Peter Krauser, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party was confident Sarbanes would be re-elected, calling the senator “an institution.”
“The Republicans are turning to a candidate whose most prominent credential is that he has twice been rejected by Maryland voters,” Krauser said. “It’s a sign of the dearth of political leadership in that party.”
Rappaport, who plans to make education, public safety and Social Security among his top issues, said he was ready for a battle.
“If this was an easy road, everybody would be in the race,” he said. “We know that we have our work cut out for us.”