Long shot not short of funds


2004 Election

The Race: U.s. Senate

October 24, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

CROWNSVILLE - Compared with the jowly, mustached face on page 32 of the 2004 Maryland General Assembly guide, the retired Wall Street tycoon sipping a saccharine-sweetened iced tea, with three weeks left in a long-shot U.S. Senate campaign, is a shadow of his former self.

A fan of sugary sodas, E.J. Pipkin has lost 40 pounds over the past year, a feat he attributes not to Atkins carb-cutting or aerobic circuit training but to a year spent crisscrossing the state to introduce himself to Maryland voters. That was probably him you saw glad-handing at a county fair, working the room at a community forum, marching alongside Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in a Veterans Day parade, waving to passers-by outside suburban metro stations. In recent weeks, as his campaign ads have become a fixture morning and night on local television, potential voters have gotten a peek at the slightly smaller Big N' Tall guy who hopes to unseat the popular, short and plump incumbent, Barbara Mikulski.

"I am a very focused person," Pipkin says, as he rips open pink packets of Sweet'N Low at the Double T Diner a few miles from the State House in Annapolis. "I study what needs to be done and then go after it with everything I've got.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Perspective section on state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, incorrectly reported the high school from which he graduated. He graduated from Dundalk High School.
The Sun regrets the error.

"I don't give up."

Bald determination has rapidly buoyed the Republican millionaire first elected to office in 2002 after besting a seemingly unbeatable Democrat who represented Cecil County and the Eastern Shore counties of Caroline, Kent and Queen Anne's. In short order, and after pouring more than $1 million of his own funds into this campaign and about $700,000 into that campaign, Pipkin has climbed from near-total anonymity to passing-grade recognition in his home state.

Making an impression

In a Sun poll of 1,200 likely voters conducted in January, just 7 percent of those surveyed had a favorable impression of Pipkin, and 3 percent - equal to the margin of error - had an unfavorable view.

Ten months later, Pipkin has gone from "what horse?" to dark horse. In a poll conducted last week, Pipkin trailed, but his impression had multiplied by about five: Voters favored the incumbent Mikulski over Pipkin by 58 percent to 34 percent.

He remains a long shot, even to party operatives who would like nothing better than to see him return to Republican control the U.S. Senate seat from which Charles McC. Mathias retired in 1986, opening the way for Mikulski.

But they are hopeful for the first time in 18 years.

"Him winning may depend on a perfect storm in politics in 2004, what would be considered nationally as an upset," said state Senate Minority Whip Andrew Harris. "I think a realistic person sees him as a long shot - but we've seen enough Preaknesses where the long shot wins, haven't we?"

Pipkin's biography reveals common-man, Catholic roots. Raised in Dundalk, the son of a Bethlehem Steel union electrician and a cafeteria worker, he sold the community newspaper. His parents placed a premium on education, sending Pipkin first to Holy Rosary School, then to Archbishop Curley High, where he graduated with the class of 1974. After briefly attending Salisbury State College, he settled into Roanoke College in Salem, Va.

He earned an MBA from the University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business Administration in 1982 before finding work at Lehman Brothers, a Wall Street investment firm that spent the 1980s advising Fortune 500 companies in the midst of global expansion.

"I worked 70-hour weeks, seven days a week," Pipkin recalls. A broker, he sold bonds to mutual funds for 16 years, including junk bonds. Mikulski's campaign ads have highlighted his role in selling the high-risk, high-yield vehicles, prompting Pipkin to devote his entire 90-second opening statement during Monday's televised debate to explaining how frequently the bonds are used for investment, in Maryland and elsewhere.

"Those ads say because I worked in the investment business, I'm a bad guy," he said at the diner. "Not so."

He was a registered Democrat when he worked on Wall Street. Though supportive of abortion rights, he wants to ban what opponents call partial-birth abortion. A clay shooter, he opposes gun control. A Roman Catholic, he backs a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

He switched parties to become a Republican after the 1992 Democratic convention, when he watched Bill Clinton win the presidential nomination, convinced that the party no longer reflected where he stood.

Six years later, after the booming markets of the 1990s, Pipkin retired at age 42 to an 18-acre waterfront estate in Stevensville.

Within months, he had stepped into the Eastern Shore political arena to fight a plan to dump millions of cubic yards of dredge spoil cleared from shipping channels in open water near the Bay Bridge.

He lobbied for three years against a practice that environmental experts agreed would threaten the bay's delicate ecology, bankrolling a grassroots group with a few hundred thousand of his own dollars.

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