By WILL SKOWRONSKI, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON (Feb. 13, 2008) - Maryland Sen. Andy Harris' defeat of nine-term incumbent Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest Tuesday would seem to seal the deal for him in a district that historically votes Republican, but Democratic nominee Frank Kratovil says just wait and see.
But Harris wasn't letting thoughts of November take the shine off his newly minted victory.
Republican voters, Harris said, chose him because of his record of fiscal responsibility and strong stances on terrorism and immigration.
"It feels good to have run a campaign for nine months and have your message accepted so overwhelmingly by the Republican primary voters," Harris said.
Harris' upset of Gilchrest, a pro-environment moderate, University of Maryland Government Professor James Gimpel said, is a surprise.
"It's quite a big deal when you knock off an incumbent," Gimpel said.
Harris won with 43 percent of the vote to Gilchrest's 33 percent, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections. State Sen. E.J. Pipkin came in third with 21 percent.
Appealing to conservative Republicans was likely Harris' ticket to victory, Gimpel said.
Harris repeatedly lumped Gilchrest and Pipkin together as "two liberal peas in a pod," and accusations of dishonesty and negative campaigning flew from all sides.
"We know who turns out in primary elections for the GOP and that tends to be more conservative activists," Gimpel said.
Pipkin, Gimpel said, may also have siphoned Eastern Shore votes from Gilchrest. Pipken and Gilchrest both live on the Eastern Shore, while Harris is from Baltimore County.
On the Democratic side, Kratovil easily bested Chris Robinson, 41 to 31 percent, according to the State Board of Elections.
A Kratovil win in November would be an upset, Gimpel said, but that doesn't mean the seat is a lock.
"I think Harris has the edge going in," Gimpel said. "It's a pretty Republican-leaning seat, but now that you've got an incumbent out it's more up for grabs in a way that it wouldn't have been before."
Kratovil, who is taking a few days off with his family to rest and get ready for the general election, said he already likes his chances against Harris.
"I think I, more so than Andy Harris, represent the mainstream values of the district," Kratovil said.
Maryland's 1st Congressional District is split closely by party, with 187,697 registered Democrats and 185,579 Republicans, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Kratovil is a better fit than Harris for the district. The district's voters, Van Hollen said, prefer moderates and Harris is a conservative ideologue.
"I think this seat has now gone from an uphill battle for the Democrats to a competitive race," Van Hollen said. "We see this very much in play."
The DCCC, Van Hollen said, will talk to the Kratovil campaign to see what help it needs. The DCCC can provide key independent expenditures.
The contentious Republican primary, Kratovil said, also turned off a lot of voters.
"What they were doing on the other side in terms of personal attacks, people are tired of that," Kratovil said. "It's the worst part of politics."
Republicans, Harris said, were not frustrated by the campaign. In fact, more Republicans turned out to vote in the district than Democrats.
The Maryland Democratic Party, said spokesman David Paulson, will also throw its resources behind Kratovil. Harris, Paulson said, divided the Republican base and voters will turn to Kratovil now that Gilchrest is out.
"He (Kratovil) presents a tremendous contrast to the shrill negativity of hysterical Andy Harris," Paulson said. "You always have a greater chance when you're not facing a likeable, popular incumbent."
John Flynn, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said polling by the National Republican Congressional Committee shows Harris would handily beat Kratovil.
"For one thing, Andy Harris has the same values as the folks on the Eastern Shore and throughout the 1st District," Flynn said. "The Democrats do not. That's why the Republicans have had that seat for the longest time and will again this year."
Harris said he doubts a Democrat will ever win in the 1st Congressional District. Nevertheless he'll campaign hard until November.
"I only campaign in one mode, full campaign mode," Harris said. "It's always on overdrive."