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Franchot to Run Again for State Comptroller in 2014; Move May Limit Pipkin Options

December 11, 2012
By Nancy Schwerzler

Analysis

Democrat Peter Franchot will not seek his party’s nomination for governor in 2014 and instead will seek re-election to his current post as Maryland Comptroller—a move that could limit potential political options for state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) of Elkton.

In an email to supporters Tuesday, Franchot said, “It is no secret that in recent months I have given thought to running for governor. I am humbled by the extraordinary support that my prospective campaign received in every corner of our state, and I am now more convinced than ever that there is a shared desire among Marylanders—irrespective of ideology or party affiliation—for an honest conversation of the fiscal and economic challenges that still lie ahead.”

Franchot, a Montgomery County liberal from Takoma Park during his lengthy tenure in the General Assembly, re-cast himself as a fiscal conservative and Democratic moderate as Comptroller and used his seat on the state Board of Public works to lob criticisms against fellow Democrat Gov. Martin O’Malley.

He has toured the farthest reaches of the state in recent years, including multiple visits to Cecil County to hand out awards for various projects such as school maintenance, in what was widely seen as name recognition boosting efforts in preparation for a gubernatorial run in 2014, when by law O’Malley must leave office.

The prospect of Franchot vacating the Comptroller slot had set off bipartisan speculation about possible candidates to fill the office, including Pipkin as a GOP candidate. In the past year or so, Pipkin has seemed to take a page out of the Franchot playbook in casting himself as a defender of the rights of rural residents on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland and a strong critic of O’Malley on fiscal and regulatory policy.

Pipkin would have been a strong GOP prospect in a race for an open Comptroller seat. He has also boosted his statewide profile since becoming Senate Minority Leader earlier this year, frequently appearing on Baltimore television to offer criticism and rebuttal to O’Malley administration positions.

But now, with Franchot seeking re-election, it would be a very uphill battle in the general election. Franchot would be a formidable, well-known opponent, and is sitting on a substantial campaign finance warchest—calculated at over $1 million, according to his most recent report to the state elections board. And it would be difficult to portray Franchot as a big-spending liberal, as Pipkin has characterized O’Malley, since Franchot has built his reputation as a “fiscal watchdog” during his tenure as comptroller.

The prospects for the 2014 governor’s race, with Franchot out of the picture on the Democratic side, leave Attorney General Doug Gansler—with a solid-gold campaign fund of over $4 million—Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and outgoing Howard County Executive Ken Ulman as potential rivals in the Democratic primary.

On the Republican side, outgoing Harford County Executive David Craig is already running for governor and making the rounds of statewide GOP political events He has positioned himself as an experienced government manager who has guided his county to fiscal success—including tax cuts for residents and one-time bonus payments to county employees when budget forecasts proved more successful than anticipated. Craig also projects a more moderate image that has been the ticket to what limited success Republicans have had in statewide politics in Maryland in recent years.

Craig attended the swearing-in ceremony for new Cecil County Executive Tari Moore last week. Pipkin, along with members of his political alliance, did not attend the ceremony as part of their fury over Moore’s switch from Republican Party affiliation to “unaffiliated” so as to remove the power from the county’s Republican Central Committee—which is dominated by allies of Pipkin and Del. Michael Smigiel—to pick Moore’s successor for the District 2 County Council seat.

Pipkin’s Senate seat is up for election in 2014 and he would have to give it up if he were to run for a statewide office. Given the current political landscape, it is looking more likely that Pipkin will stay where he is, especially since the 36th district was made even more GOP-friendly during redistricting and includes even less of Cecil County than in the past. While Pipkin’s popularity in Cecil County has diminished– as evidenced by the fact that all of his endorsed candidates in local elections lost this year– the local political wars in Cecil County are largely unknown in the other counties that make up the bulk of the electorate in the 36th.

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