WASHINGTON – There are nine candidates running in the Maryland Republican primary for U.S. Senate but as far as the state Republican Party is concerned, there may as well only be one.
“There’s only one candidate that has a decent chance and that’s (state Sen. E.J.) Pipkin,” said Eric Sutton, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. “He’s right on the issues.”
Sutton was careful to point out that the party has not officially endorsed any candidate in the race. But some of the other eight do not see it that way.
“There is a blatant bias towards one candidate, where there are nine running,” said Corrogan R. Vaughn, a Baltimore limousine company owner who was a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2000.
“There’s no question that the party should be completely neutral until the primary and I don’t think that’s been the case,” said James A. Kodak, a cancer researcher who is in his first election.
Several of the GOP outsiders noted that Pipkin’s campaign manager, Steve Crim, worked for the state party until he quit to work on the campaign. They also said the party has failed to return their calls, and that it has been impossible for them to set up meetings with party leaders.
But Sutton denied playing favorites. He said he has offered help to those who have asked, but none have called the party’s office, except for Vaughn.
Sutton said the party does not even have the phone numbers of most of the eight, and does not know who they are — any party member can register as candidate.
Crim insisted that the Pipkin campaign has not received any special treatment from the party.
“We haven’t had any endorsement, but we’re not focused on what everybody else is doing, we have our own game plan,” he said.
So far, that plan has been to get Pipkin’s name out to voters. The Queen Anne’s County Republican has never run a statewide race and is little known outside his Eastern Shore district, where he spent more than $500,000 of his own money in 2002 — his first bid for office — to unseat a popular Democratic incumbent.
Pipkin, a Dundalk native who made a fortune as a Wall Street financier, has repeated that pattern so far in his U.S. Senate campaign, contributing $250,000 of his own money to a campaign bank account that totaled $376,766 as of Dec. 31, according to the Federal Election Commission.
An October poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies said 36 percent of likely voters recognized Pipkin’s name — but the same poll said Mikulski would beat him by a 57-26 percent margin.
By contrast, few of the other eight Republicans have raised the minimum $5,000 needed to file a report with the FEC and pollsters do not include their names in surveys. And they say that has swayed the party to back Pipkin.
“He (Pipkin) is the pick. Period,” said Senate candidate Ray Bly, an appliance store owner who ran unsuccessfully in 2002 for Howard County Council.
Vaughn said the party “sabotaged” his campaign, waiting months before it gave him access to the voters list, refusing to post information about his candidacy on the party Web site and denying his requests for meetings with party Chairman John Kane or Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich.
Sutton said Vaughn is not a serious candidate, but that he was offered the same information as Pipkin.
Vaughn said that offer came just weeks before the primary — and only after he sent a letter to Kane complaining about his treatment. He said he ultimately declined the offer, to help his campaign with Internet services and press releases, because “no candidate should be given special treatment.”
Kodak said he has tried to contact both Kane and Ehrlich, but has received no answer so far. Stafford said he even offered to make a contribution to the party, but nobody answered his calls either.
Sutton said no candidates have called his office.
But however bruising the primary, analysts say the party’s nominee can expect an even tougher fight in November: Mikulski has 17 years in the Senate, a string of victories in the heavily Democratic state and she had $2.1 million cash on hand by the end of 2003.
“She (Mikulski) will be re-elected pretty easily because this is a Democratic state . . . and she is popular,” said Michael Korzi, a professor at Towson University.
The fact that most of the Republicans have little money, campaign structure, name recognition or public office experience — not to mention 11 lost elections between five of them — “does nothing but help her (Mikulski),” said Melissa Deckman, assistant professor at Washington College.
-30- CNS 02-25-04