Harris could be in right place at right time in 2010 House election

Veteran lawmaker from Baltimore suburbs favored in Tuesday's Republican primary, competitive in November

September 10, 2010|By Paul West, The Baltimore Sun

Republican congressional candidate Andy Harris could be right at home in Washington next year.

If the veteran lawmaker from suburban Baltimore is able to ride a predicted Republican wave into the House, he would join fellow social and economic conservatives in a class of newcomers whose anticipated rise to power has already been likened to the so-called Gingrich Revolution of the mid-1990s.

In Maryland, as elsewhere, the public is "in a cynical mood. It is an angry mood," said Harris. "I run into people all the time who say, 'I'm not going to vote for any Democrat.' Or, 'I'm not going to vote for any incumbent.' "

According to the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that monitors House races across the country, the 53-year-old state senator stands a good chance of winning a rematch against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil. But there is still Tuesday's primary in the 1st District, which takes in the entire Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties.

Rob Fisher, a conservative businessman and first-time candidate, is in an uphill primary struggle against the better-known Harris.

In an interview, Harris said his campaign efforts over the past 31/2 years should make this "a pretty clear choice for the voters." In 2008, he unseated longtime Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in the Republican primary before losing narrowly to Kratovil in November.

During a dozen years in the General Assembly, Harris has established one of the most conservative voting records in Annapolis. He is a physician, and his strong opposition to abortion rights has been at the heart of his appeal in one of the state's most conservative areas.

Harris calls himself a "constitutionally based libertarian" on most issues. As an example, he says motorcyclists should not be required to wear helmets, so long as they have adequate insurance.

"People say, 'How can you do that as a doctor?' " he said. "Well, because I believe that there is a personal liberty issue here."

At the same time, he stops short of advocating total freedom from government. He supports medical marijuana, though only with strict limits, and opposes gay marriage.

A son of Eastern European immigrants, Harris says births to illegal immigrants have become such a problem that a constitutional amendment to do away with "birthright citizenship" should probably be submitted to the states. He is a strong supporter of Arizona's anti-immigration law and has spoken out against a proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero.

In a season of intense dissatisfaction with Washington, he is running as a conservative reformer, with an eye toward cutting government spending.

He says he will not request federal money for pet projects in his district using the procedure known as "earmarking" that critics regard as wasteful. Earmarks have been actively sought by all current members of the state's congressional delegation and have helped make Maryland one of the largest recipients of federal spending in the country.

"When I explain to people that, in a very strange way, we send our tax dollars to Washington, then beg to have them come back as an earmark, that's probably not the system most people think ought to be in place," Harris said.

Under the guidance of Republican strategists in Washington and Tommy Hopper, a Tennessee-based campaign consultant, Harris has stuck to a cautious strategy as part of an effort to reverse his 2008 election loss, the only defeat of his career.

He's maintained an extremely light campaign schedule over the summer. That has limited the chances of self-inflicted damage or antagonizing moderate independents, the district's swing voters.

Some of his infrequent campaign events were made public after they took place, others not at all. He has communicated with voters through automated phone calls, private meetings, some door-to-door campaigning and the efforts of campaign volunteers.

Over the past year, Harris worked part time at hospitals in Salisbury and Easton in an attempt to strengthen his connection to residents on the Eastern Shore, which casts about half the district's votes.

Heading into the primary, he largely avoided public scrutiny. He held a private fundraising event in Annapolis this week with Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, arguably the most prominent conservative among top House leaders, and conducted a brief conference call with reporters.

In the interview, he seemed to be looking beyond the primary.

"We are saving up all our pennies for the general election," said Harris, whose first campaign commercial won't air until the day after the nomination is decided.

paul.west@baltsun.com

Name: Andrew P. Harris

Political Affiliation: Republican

Residence: Cockeysville

Office sought: 1st Congressional District

Current position: Maryland state Senate, 1999-present, 7th District (Baltimore and Harford counties).

Occupation: Anesthesiologist

Family: Married, five children.

Date of birth: Jan. 25, 1957

Place of birth: New York, N.Y.

Education: B.S., M.D., M.H.S., The Johns Hopkins University

Military service: Commander, Medical Corps, U.S. Naval Reserve

Source: Maryland Manual

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