ANNAPOLIS – A Democratic state senator who was trounced in his party’s primary when he ran for re-election is ready to give it another try — this time as a Republican.
Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., of Prince George’s County, announced that he has changed parties at a Republican fundraiser in Baltimore Tuesday evening. The switch sparked a wave of support from Maryland’s Republican Party and criticism from Democrats who see him as a turncoat.
“It’s the dumbest move he could possibly make,” said David Paulson, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic party. “I don’t think Giannetti has the energy to overcome the negatives of switching a party and looking like he’s doing it for selfish reasons.”
But Maryland Republicans say they are delighted at the chance of picking up a Republican seat in what has been a solidly Democratic district.
Giannetti, a lawyer who was first elected as a Democrat in 2002, will run in district 21, which includes College Park, Beltsville, Laurel and parts of Anne Arundel County.
In a statement, Giannetti said Republican Party leaders tried to recruit him three times since his Sept. 12 primary defeat at the hands of James C. Rosapepe. He finally agreed, he said, after some “soul-searching.”
Rosapepe trounced Giannetti in what had been a bitterly contested campaign, winning 58 percent of the vote to the incumbent’s 40 percent.
Rosapepe, a former state delegate and Ambassador to Romania, said Giannetti should accept defeat.
“I think voters want leaders who are less focused on personal advancement and more focused on representing the interest of the community,” Rosapepe said. “I’ve heard from a lot of Republicans who were not supportive of him.”
Giannetti said in the statement a majority of primary election voters were “the most partisan of the electorate.”
“I realized that the opportunity to give my entire constituent base, not just the Democratic primary voters, a chance to weigh in on my candidacy was something I should encourage and allow,” Giannetti said in the statement.
Critics say Giannetti’s run is made possible only by a legal loophole. Under a Maryland law dubbed the “sore loser law,” a candidate defeated in a primary election cannot appear on the ballot in the general election. But an exception to the rule states that if another party’s nominee drops out, a primary loser can legally step in with approval from the party’s central committees in the county.
John Stafford, a lawyer who won the uncontested Republican nomination in the district, has obliged by declining the nomination, leaving Giannetti room to step in. Stafford could not be reached for comment.
All Giannetti needs now is the formal selection by the Republican central committees of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties.
Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party, said this was a done deal and the central committees would make it official Thursday.
Giannetti, who was sometimes labeled a maverick, points out on his website that he is pro-life. He also supported Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich on slots, the Intercounty Connector and opposition of an assault weapons ban.
But Giannetti also supported a measure that would have capped a utility rate hike by Baltimore Gas and Electric, a bill Ehrlich vetoed, and listed “improving the environment” as a key part of his agenda.
Despite this, the Maryland Republican Party has embraced Giannetti.
“We are very excited and happy about this,” Miller said. “The majority of the people in the district are moderate Democrats, independents and Republicans. John Giannetti is clearly in line with the people.”
Other supporters, like University of Maryland student Matthew Stern, say their loyalty lies with Giannetti’s personal platform rather than his party affiliation. Stern, who worked as field director in Giannetti’s campaign before the Democratic primary, says he will continue to support him in the general election.
“He’s not running as a different person,” said Stern, a 20-year-old registered Democrat. “He’s only changing one thing, and that’s an ‘R’ or a ‘D,’ not his stance.”
But critics are dubious about Giannetti’s chances for success.
“There’s no turning back. You can’t do that,” said Paulson, the Democrats’ spokesman. “He’s joining a party that, while they may welcome him for the novelty of the moment, will not appreciate him in the long run.”
Some say Giannetti’s move appears politically motivated, which may not appeal to voters. “We saw how effective the flip flopping charge was in 2004,” said Herb Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College. “This is the mother of all flip flops.”