PASADENA – The race to claim the Republican nomination for Maryland’s 1st Congressional District seat got more crowded Thursday.
State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne’s, elbowed into the primary contest with a series of announcements around the district, including one at the Mountain Road Branch Public Library in Anne Arundel County.
Five challengers are now vying for the seat held by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, since 1990.
Pipkin said he was prodded to enter the race by Maryland citizens asking him to “fight for them in Washington.”
“We need to change how things are being done in Washington,” Pipkin said in front of a crowd of about 30. “We need a congressman who understands local issues and is committed to new ideas.”
Pipkin’s announcement could dilute support for fellow state Sen. Andy Harris, R-Baltimore County, who had separated himself from his rivals with strong fundraising and endorsements from former Gov. Bob Ehrlich and several national conservative groups.
The primary season is abbreviated since the General Assembly bumped the election forward to Feb. 12, and Pipkin’s late entrance gives him just three months to mount his challenge.
Harris’ campaign did not see the announcement as a threat.
“We’re glad that the only state senator not to endorse Andy has finally realized that Wayne Gilchrest doesn’t represent the views of the 1st District,” said Harris campaign manager Chris Meekins.
The Gilchrest camp said Pipkin’s candidacy would affect Harris the most.
“I don’t think it necessarily impacts our campaign,” said Gilchrest Chief of Staff Tony Caligiuri. “I think it’s a devastating blow to the Harris campaign. He kind of had the field all to himself and with another candidate that’s going to seriously divide up those anti-incumbent votes.”
The other Republicans in the field — Joe Arminio, a doctor; Eastern Shore attorney John Leo Walter, and former state official Robert Joseph Banks of Baltimore County — are not as well known or funded.
Caligiuri said the Gilchrest campaign saw Pipkin as a “serious guy” and noted that he has “just as good, if not a better, chance than Harris,” to win.
Pipkin, a retired investment banker, ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate against Barbara Mikulski in 2004. He spent $2.7 million of his personal fortune in that race, according to published accounts.
“It was a great experience,” he said Thursday. “Tuition was expensive, but it was a lesson learned.”
Pipkin said his campaign would center on protecting Second Amendment rights, which permit gun ownership by civilians, and preventing illegal immigration, including prohibiting illegal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses or in-state tuition.
“Washington must secure our borders,” he said.
Pipkin also said that he would push to make President Bush’s income tax cuts “permanent.”
Meekins said that Pipkin is not the conservative that he makes himself out to be and lumped him with the incumbent.
“They’re two tax-and-spend peas in a liberal pod,” Meekins said.
When Pipkin was asked about his spending record, he pointed to his action during the recent Maryland General Assembly special session.
“I worked around the clock to stop Gov. (Martin) O’Malley’s tax increases,” Pipkin said. “Any statement made otherwise is ludicrous.”
Pipkin said his time as a private citizen and in the General Assembly helps him among voters.
“They certainly know of me,” he said. “And I’m going to win this election.”