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Undaunted Pipkin takes on Mikulski

July 29, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - While Sen. Barbara Mikulski was accepting accolades at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, her opponent in the November election has been crisscrossing the state in his effort to dislodge her from her longtime Senate seat.

State Sen. Edward J. Pipkin, R-Eastern Shore, quickly acknowledges he is the underdog in this fight. But he's been there before.

A former Wall Street bond trader, Pipkin, 47, grew up in Dundalk, Md., and retired to Queen Anne's County in 1999. Almost immediately, he found himself in a political fray when he took on Gov. Parris Glendening's plan to dump dredge spoils into the Chesapeake Bay. He organized a grass-roots campaign and after a two-year fight, the General Assembly agreed to prohibit the dumping. When the final bill reached the Maryland Senate, it passed by a vote of 46-1.

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The only vote cast against it came from powerful Walter Baker of Cecil County, in Pipkin's 36th District.

So in 2002, Pipkin challenged the six-term senator - and won.

And in this year's Maryland primary, Pipkin ran in a nine-way heat for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat - and won with more than half the vote.

He hadn't really planned to jump back into the campaign mix so soon. But Wednesday found him in Hagerstown, shaking hands, touring Phoenix Color Corp. and conducting a town meeting at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on East Washington Street.

"The party asked me to take a look" at running against Mikulski last year, he said. "And I said 'no.'"

But party operatives persuaded him that "no one had really pointed out the differences" between Mikulski's "Maryland personality" and her voting record, he said. When people compare her voting record with their own convictions, Pipkin said Mikulski's support declines.

In the remaining months before the election, "I need to lay out why I can do a better job as U.S. senator," he said.

Mainly it's a difference in philosophy, he said.

For example, Pipkin describes himself as "strong anti-tax." Mikulski, he calculated, has voted more than 300 times to increase taxes.

He's pro-business, and describes Mikulski as "decidedly anti-business."

But he said the real contrast is in social issues. While Mikulski is a gun-control advocate, Pipkin opposes it. And he blames Mikulski and other Senate Democrats for blocking votes on judges because "the impression is they're too religious or too pro-life."

And on the abortion issue, Pipkin said he supports a ban on partial-birth abortions, but not on all abortions.

"I'm a choice candidate with major differences" with Mikulski, he said.

He's also a pro-military candidate who supports the Iraq war.

"I've never figured out the people who say 'I support the troops but I oppose the war,'" he said, and accused Mikulski of "a poor voting record on increases in defense spending" - spending that he said often translates into more jobs in Maryland.

Striking even closer to home, he blamed Mikulski - not Gov. Robert Ehrlich - for the flush tax. Contending that the Chesapeake Bay still is a big issue for him, he said the governor was faced with a challenge in cleaning it up since there were not enough federal dollars coming into the state to pay for it.

"So the governor had to step in and introduce the flush tax," he said. "If we got the federal dollars we should be getting, it wouldn't have been an issue."

While he wants to see more federal money going to the military and coming into Maryland, he maintains that no new taxes are needed to provide it.

"We don't have a revenue crisis," he said, "we've got a spending problem."

Pipkin said the government can improve the way it makes purchases through competitive bidding processes. That, he said, is where his business savvy can be a benefit. He said he wants to take his "strong government business principles to the federal level."

Pipkin said he hopes to debate Mikulski in person at least once before the election, but would like at least three debates. And he seems undaunted by the challenge.

"Any race looks better compared to the fight for the Bay," he said.

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