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Conservative Legislator Starts Exploratory Effort

State Sen. Andrew Harris (R) created an exploratory committee late last week, meaning he’s another step closer to challenging Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R) in the Feb. 12 Republican primary and can begin raising money.

“During the last month, I have received hundreds of phone calls from Republicans across the First Congressional District asking me to consider running for Congress,” Harris said in a statement. “The grassroots support has inspired me to take this next step in the process.”

Harris, a leading conservative in the Legislature, has been critical of the moderate Gilchrest on several fronts, particularly on the Congressman’s support for Democratic measures to withdraw troops from Iraq.

This is not the first time Gilchrest has attracted opposition from the right — or the first time Harris has taken on an entrenched incumbent. In 1998, the obstetric anesthesiologist won his legislative seat by ousting the moderate state Senate Minority Leader in a GOP primary.

In an interview, Harris said the difference between what he’s doing and previous Gilchrest challengers is that he has enlisted the support of several state and local Republican leaders. Five state Senators and three state Delegates — including the state House Minority Leader — already have agreed to be on his exploratory committee, as has Dick Hug, the top fundraiser for former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R).

“You’ve never had a Republican challenger come out with this level of support,” Harris said.

In an interview earlier this month with Reason magazine, Gilchrest said he was not worried about the prospects of a primary challenge from a pro-war candidate.

‘‘It’s inconvenient,” he said. ‘‘My eternal soul will last a lot longer than my short, pathetic political career.”
— Josh Kurtz