Richard M. Cornwell, the 71-year-old farmer chosen by Republican voters to run for the state Senate from Baltimore County's sprawling 10th District, said yesterday that he may abandon the race because now his party has a decent chance to win it.
"I have to decide if I'm up to it because it's going to be a good campaign," said Mr. Cornwell, a relative unknown who was unopposed in the primary.
Mr. Cornwell's departure, GOP officials said, would enable the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee to replace him with either Delegate Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the House minority leader, or Delegate Robert Ehrlich Jr., a lawyer who sits on the House Judiciary Committee.
Both said yesterday that they may be interested in taking Mr. Cornwell's place on the ballot against Janice Piccinini, who unexpectedly swamped state Sen. Francis X. Kelly in Tuesday's Democratic primary after attacking the incumbent's role as a leader of anti-abortion forces in the General Assembly.
Ms. Piccinini cried foul.
"I think people will see it as deceptive," she said. "I don't think people will appreciate it."
At a news conference in her Baltimore County headquarters yesterday, Ms. Piccinini extended her attack, charging that the Republican Party's maneuvering was "an extension of the unholy alliance" between Delegate Sauerbrey and Senator Kelly.
The delegate and the senator, who represent the same north-county district, are both considered moderate-to-conservative. Despite belonging to different parties, they have long observed a mutual non-aggression pact.
Mr. Kelly said yesterday he would support Delegate Sauerbrey if she were to run against Ms. Piccinini.
Ms. Piccinini charged that Mr. Cornwell had entered the race solely to reserve a spot on the ballot for a well-known Republican candidate if Mr. Kelly were upset in the primary.
Neither Delegate Sauerbrey nor Delegate Ehrlich would comment directly on the charge, but neither denied it.
"It certainly was true that he was asked to file so that we could preserve our options," Delegate Ehrlich said.
Delegate Sauerbrey, who called Ms. Piccinini a "big-tax, big-spending, left-leaning liberal," said: "I haven't made any decisions on anything. I'm not closing any doors....
"Obviously if Mr. Cornwell is not going to wage an active campaign, then I think we owe it to the voters of the 10th District to offer an alternative," she said.
Delegate Ehrlich said: "You never say no in politics, so you look at it. And that's what we're doing."
Republican Party activists said that both Delegates Ehrlich and Sauerbrey planned to confer with their supporters last night, perhaps commission a poll of the district and at some point sit down and decide jointly what to do.
"A prerequisite would be that one would support the other," said Delegate Ehrlich. "For this to work, obviously the party has to be behind it 100 percent."
Under state election law, Mr. Cornwell has until Sept. 21 to take his name off the ballot. The county Central Committee would have until Oct. 9 to pick his replacement.
One major concern of both Republican delegates is the effect of the abortion issue on the race.
"If the media continues to focus this whole race on abortion and does not allow any Republican challenger to bring out any other issues ... then I think it would be an impossible campaign," said Delegate Sauerbrey.
Delegate Ehrlich said the district is strongly pro-abortion rights. He described himself as a supporter of abortion rights, although he said he has voted against expanded Medicaid funding for abortions for fiscal reasons.
Delegate Sauerbrey said she would permit abortions under certain circumstances, but she declined to say what those circumstances would be. A letter she sent to at least one constituent in February, provided by Ms. Piccinini, called a fetus "a separate genetic entity" and states: "To destroy that separate entity is the taking of human life."