PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. – A retired surgeon who has lost 15 elections is trying his luck again as a Republican candidate in the Maryland gubernatorial race.
However, Ross Z. Pierpont, 84, faces a steep uphill battle.
The state's Republican Party has all but declared his opponent, Rep. Bob Ehrlich, R-Timonium, its gubernatorial nominee. Furthermore, Maryland GOP Chairman Michael Steele has said the party "will not have a primary."
But none of that seems to phase the unflappable Pierpont.
At a recent Lincoln Day Dinner in Calvert County, Md., Pierpont was busy working the crowd, despite the fact they were mostly assembled to listen to Ehrlich speak.
"Have you read this?" Pierpont asked, slipping his 18-page campaign brochure to a hungry Republican in the buffet line at the event. "It's about the Kennedys — you'll like it."
Pierpont's hefty campaign brochure, titled "S.O.S. — Save Our State," is a diatribe that takes on the Democratic frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and pretty much every Kennedy ever seen in U.S. politics.
"The pamphlet is an explanation of what we're trying to do. We don't want to see a coronation of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as governor, which she is totally unfit for," Pierpont said. "The Kennedys are responsible for the disintegration of the Democratic Party."
The brochure claims to "expose" Camelot as a conspiracy and charges Townsend with reckless spending and incompetence. Starting on page 2, she gets a thrashing for paying out more than $1 million in salaries to a 17-person staff of "babysitters" — her advisers and aides.
Townsend's chief of staff did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Pierpont's brochure doesn't even mention his own candidacy until page 16. But apparently, that's part of the strategy.
Pierpont was impatient when he was pressed about challenging Ehrlich in the primary. He had only praise for the GOP frontrunner, and applauded after Ehrlich spoke at the dinner.
"The beauty of this is that there's two of us," Pierpont said. "If anything happens to one of us, the other one is there."
"You see, we've never had this kind of strength before. The reason I've had to run so many times is because nobody else would run," he added.
Pierpont has competed in races when no other Republicans would. A Democrat until 1970, he has spent more than $3 million of his own money over the years to carry the GOP flag in elections.
He has won several primaries, but never a general election. In the 1998 general election against Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, he collected only 444,637 — 29.5 percent — of the votes.
"The funny thing is, he's not a crackpot," said Montgomery Journal columnist Blair Lee. "It's just that running for elected office is his hobby."
Hobbyist or not, Pierpont is about more than anti-Kennedy diatribes. The crux of his platform is healthcare. More than 50 years in medicine left him so disenchanted with the American healthcare system that he devised a "cradle to grave" plan he hopes to pilot in Maryland.
Based on the German model, Pierpont's system would resemble a cooperative, in that everyone would own a piece of it. Pierpont claims the plan would extend coverage to everyone and reduce government involvement to a minimum.
"He's a good man — more committed to healthcare than anyone" said Ehrlich's campaign manager, Paul Schurick, who carefully chose his words about the elder upstart.
"We've known Dr. Pierpont for years. We like him," Schurick said. "He's done a lot to advance the issue of healthcare, and he's done a lot for the Republican Party ... I think I'll just leave it at that."
Some say Pierpont's campaign could actually benefit Ehrlich, letting him take the high road while Pierpont directs his vitriol at Townsend.
"He'll help Ehrlich in a way, by leveling some charges against the Kennedys and saying some things that others might not be willing to say," Lee said. "Given the many times he's lost, though, I don't think he's a serious candidate."
Don't tell that to Sidney Burns, 61, a certified public accountant who agreed last fall to be Pierpont's running mate.
"I'm kind of upset, because the Republican Party ignores us," Burns said.
Unlike Pierpont, Burns chafed at Steele's vow that there would not be a Republican primary this year.
"Oh, there's going to be a Republican primary. We're not going away," Burns said. "If we win, Michael Steele's desk goes out in the street."
Steele could not be reached for comment, but others say his job is secure.
"Everyone believes that lightning can strike. He (Pierpont) sure has name recognition ... but the governor's race, forget it," said Mark Plotkin, political analyst for WTOP, a Washington area talk radio station. "Ehrlich has a base. The entire Republican machine is behind him."
Pierpont shrugs off that kind of talk.
"People can say whatever they want about me," he said, adding that it is not important who wins the primary but who wins the governor's mansion.
Asked how he would react if Ehrlich won a primary and went on to beat Townsend, Pierpont answered without hesitating.
"That's a win!" he said.