Arundel senator switches parties

Giannetti, defeated in the Democratic primary, might run for GOP in November

September 27, 2006|By Phillip McGowan and Andrew A. Green | Phillip McGowan and Andrew A. Green,SUN REPORTERS

In an article in yesterday's Maryland section, Republican John Stafford, a former candidate for state Senate, mischaracterized some of the views of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and state Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. Ehrlich supports abortion rights; Giannetti does not. Ehrlich supports a constitutional ban on gay marriage; Giannetti has been opposed.

A maverick Anne Arundel County state senator who was defeated in the Democratic primary after breaking ranks with party leaders on several high-profile issues has switched political parties, apparently with an eye on seeking re-election as a Republican in November.

Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., 42, a lawyer elected in 2002 as a Democrat, said last night that he has become a Republican and has the paperwork to prove it. He was carrying it with him at a Republican fundraising dinner in Baltimore.

"I give the Republican Party all the credit," he said. "They are very tenacious. They made several different offers to me, and I turned them down. Finally, they convinced me they would welcome me with open arms."

Word of the freshman senator's party-switching coincided with the decision of the Republican primary winner, John Stafford, to bow out in District 21 - a Democratic-leaning enclave that includes northern Prince George's and western Anne Arundel counties.

"I declined the nomination in favor of John," Stafford said earlier yesterday, noting Giannetti's credentials as an opponent of abortion and gay marriage. "I think he has a better chance of winning as the incumbent and being able to appeal to the same kind of decent Democratic voters that I can appeal to."

The chain of events opens the door for a rematch between Giannetti and former Del. James C. Rosapepe, who resoundingly defeated Giannetti in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.

A provision in Maryland election law allows Giannetti to join the Republican ticket if the party central committees in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties sign off.

The committees must declare a replacement for Stafford by 5 p.m. tomorrow, according to the State Board of Elections Web site. The deadline for a write-in candidacy is Nov. 1.

Giannetti said he was personally recruited by Sen. Alex X. Mooney, a conservative lawmaker from Frederick County who heads the GOP's Senate recruitment efforts. Mooney said last night that having Giannetti run was an opportunity to prevent a liberal - Rosapepe - from winning a Senate seat.

Word had been stirring since the weekend that Giannetti was not taking his Democratic primary defeat lying down. In a statement yesterday afternoon, the freshman senator left open the possibility of changing parties or filing as a write-in candidate.

In a brief telephone interview in the afternoon, Giannetti said: "I am still a Democrat until the right set of conditions occur."

Democratic leaders said yesterday afternoon that they were taken aback that Giannetti was mulling a party switch.

"It would be a strange move for a guy I put on a bus in the winter of 2003 to go to Vermont as we worked together in the Howard Dean campaign," said David Paulson, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party. Last night, he called Giannetti a "sore loser whose political career is essentially over."

Many Democrats had deserted Giannetti during his primary re-election bid. Two Democratic delegates in the district backed Rosapepe, and Giannetti unsuccessfully fielded a slate of candidates.

Stafford said Republican leaders are supportive of Giannetti because he sided with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in opposing an assault-weapons ban and in his views on abortion and marriage. Giannetti has also supported the governor on slots, the Intercounty Connector and on a takeover of some Baltimore schools.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican, said last night: "He's so much in line with a lot of what we believe in."

Giannetti was one of two incumbent senators who were defeated Sept. 12. He became senator for the Democratic-leaning district in 2002 after beating a 37-year state lawmaker, Sen. Arthur Dorman by less than 300 votes in the 2002 primary.

Critics of Giannetti have labeled him as a political opportunist.

Giannetti referred yesterday to his "stark independence" as a benefit. He said he is also "driven by my personal values, and oftentimes these values do not fit squarely into typical `Democratic' or `Republican' categories."

Rosapepe and other Democrats said a party switch by Giannetti would be a grave miscalculation.

"This isn't about me," Rosapepe said. "This is about the voters. I think people are looking for leaders they can trust, and when on Tuesday you're a Democrat, but you might be a Republican on Friday, I think Republicans, Democrats and independents will not react well to that."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com andy.green@baltsun.com

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