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September 02, 2008

Gilchrest Backs Dem Over Primary Foe

Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest made his career in Congress bucking his party. The Maryland congressman, who lost his primary bid to State Senator Andy Harris, is shrugging off the GOP one more time to endorse Harris' Democratic opponent, Queen Anne's County State's Attorney Frank Kratovil.

Gilchrest, a moderate who opposed the Bush Administration on the war in Iraq and a host of other issues, finally succumbed after a series of challenges from the right throughout his eighteen-year Congressional career. He lost his February primary to Harris by a 43% to 33% margin, with State Senator E.J. Pipkin taking the rest of the vote.

Now, Gilchrest is backing Kratovil. "This is a decision that I do not make lightly," Gilchrest said in a statement released by the Democrat's campaign. "I have given a great deal of thought to which candidate I trust to represent my family and me in Congress. I trust Frank Kratovil, and that means more to me than party labels."

Republicans were quick to throw their former congressman under the bus. "While Congressman Gilchrest's action is certainly not a surprise to us, it is disappointing. The Maryland Republican Party and Republicans in the 1st Congressional District have supported Wayne for years and many Republicans will view his decision as a betrayal of that support," Maryland Republican Party chairman Jim Pelura said in his own statement.

Democrats are excited about Kratovil and have added him to the Red to Blue program. But it's an uphill battle, with or without Gilchrest's help. President Bush won 62% of the vote in the First District, which is based along Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Harris has proven a monster fundraiser, pulling in more than $2 million through the end of the Second Quarter. Because of his primary fight with Gilchrest, Harris boasts about a 4-3 financial advantage over Kratovil.

Bitter primaries can be a problem for a party, especially if intra-party wounds don't heal fast enought. But Gilchrest's defection is a rare example of such nasty rivalries. It isn't the first time this year a beaten primary foe headed across the aisle to endorse, either: Democrat Richard Carter lost his primary to second-time candidate Jim Esch in Nebraska before crossing over to back Republican Rep. Lee Terry.