This Md. Republican thinks Mikulski is vulnerable

Doctor, 1st-term Queen Anne's commissioner says he expects to win

February 28, 2010|By Larry Carson

Standing in the expansive basement family room of a Fulton mansion, Dr. Eric S. Wargotz explained why he thinks 2010 will be so kind to Republicans that he's got a chance to replace four- term U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, arguably Maryland's most popular Democrat.

"I'm running because I believe I can do it," said Wargotz, 53, a first-term Queen Anne's County commissioner. "I see an opening here. Look at Scott Brown," he said, referring to the once-obscure Massachusetts Republican state senator catapulted to national celebrity by winning a special election for the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's Senate seat. Wargotz said he went to Massachusetts to help in the Brown campaign's final days.

But it's not clear that all Maryland Republicans share that optimism.

Former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., for example, continues to delay announcing his intentions, saying he will only run for governor again if he feels he can win, and that he hasn't decided whether he can.

Greg Massoni, an Ehrlich spokesman, said later that "all your questions about Ehrlich will be answered in the next several weeks."

Wargotz, a friendly, loquacious pathologist and father of three, isn't shy, though, about pursuing his dream, though he has yet to officially file as a candidate in Maryland.

"We think we're the candidate that's ready," Wargotz said about himself. Three other Republicans - James B. Rutledge and Daniel McAndrew of Harford County, and former Maryland Del. Carmen Amedori of Carroll - have filed to run for the GOP nomination for the Senate seat Mikulski holds. Robert Henry Brookman, a Catonsville man, has also filed as an independent candidate.

Wargotz espouses familiar GOP talking points, accusing Democrats of causing the government to spend far too much money on economic stimulus with far too little effect. He also opposes the various Democratic-inspired health care reform bills pending before Congress, and he wants lower taxes.

Wargotz told his admirers in Fulton that "hope" and "change," the slogans used by President Barack Obama during his successful 2008 campaign, are on the way - but this time benefiting Republicans.

"We're seeing change," he said, in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, where Republicans have beaten Democrats in recent elections. "We're all for change," he added.

"Barbara Mikulski is asleep at the wheel" after 33 years in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, he said. Mikulski has brought "millions and millions of dollars" back to Maryland to help the Chesapeake Bay, "but it's in worse shape 33 years later than it was," when she started, he said.

Wargotz said he does favor bipartisan cooperation.

"The challenge is how to accomplish goals without compromising your principals," he said.

Mikulski, 73, recently scotched a blogger's rumor that she might not run again, saying she is planning a big fundraiser March 15 and has $2 million in campaign cash. Wargotz reports having a $156,865 federal campaign treasury, including a $75,000 loan from himself. Mikulski plans a formal announcement this spring, she told The Baltimore Sun.

Monday, she announced formation of a high-powered team of campaign advisers with national and Maryland expertise to guide her re-election effort. They include Mandy Grunwald, who has helped Democrats win Senate seats the past three elections, and who was a media consultant for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid.

"I am not shy and I am not retiring," Mikulski said in a prepared statement. "I'm looking forward to a vigorous campaign."

Retired Johns Hopkins University political science professor Matthew Crenson gives a relatively unknown candidate like Wargotz little chance to beat Mikulski, who has consistently ranked high in polls.

"The chances are probably slim to none," Crenson said, adding that "some people just like to run for office." Herbert C. Smith, a McDaniel College political scientist, said "no one's unbeatable, but she's about as close as you can probably come."

Although Michael S. Steele, the Republican national party chairman and a former Maryland lieutenant governor, was beaten by veteran congressman Benjamin L. Cardin in the 2006 Maryland Senate election, Republicans say that was a Democratic year. Now voter sentiment has shifted, they believe, and the recent string of Republican victories in other states seem to prove it.

Howard County's Republican County Councilman Greg Fox did the initial introductions at Wargotz's fundraiser last weekend at the home of Rob and Carroll Cohen, and former Howard Del. Don Murphy also attended, as did Trent Kittleman, the GOP candidate for county executive. Kittleman said she was campaigning for herself and hasn't chosen sides among GOP Senate hopefuls.

"He has a chance," said Murphy, who was among the first Maryland Republicans to support U.S. Sen. John McCain for president in 2008.

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