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C. Fraser Smith: In GOP district, will voters turn to Democrat?

You could call him a warhorse.

Or cannon fodder.

Or maybe senator.

He’s running for the state senate — with suddenly a chance to win, he thinks.

Dan Rupli allowed his name to be entered as the Democratic candidate for state Senate in District 4, one of the most strongly Republican pieces of political ground in Maryland.

He thought his opponent would be Sen. David Brinkley, a man he didn’t agree with — but admired.

And then Brinkley lost to Del. Michael Hough, a Republican aligned with the Tea Party.

The immediate reaction to Hough’s win ranged from resignation to mock congratulations.

One blogger wrote: “Congratulations are due to Mr. Hough for only the purest breed of radical wing nut obstructionist will suffice for this district.”

Rupli says Hough’s big victory was an embarrassment to many Republicans.

“One very conservative man told me, ‘I’m with you because you’re not trying to convince me to be different than I am. In a way, you could be the salvation of my party by driving a stake in the heart of the Tea Party,’” Rupli says.

Low turnout, he says, was a big factor. And Brinkley’s campaign was faulty.

“He let the other guy define him. I think Brinkley was caught off guard,” he says.

“Who can say how it would have turned out if a respectable number of Republicans turned out?”

A good question, no doubt. But the margin of Hough’s victory was enormous: 8,715 to 4,133 — 2 to 1. There is one report that Hough is focused now on helping Blaine Young in his race for county executive.

Rupli’s Republican supporters include County Commissioner David Gray. Gray, who was recently an unsuccessful candidate for county executive in the GOP primary, says Rupli could be an antidote to what he called “poisonous” politics in the county.

“What’s going on is ugly and demeaning,” he says. Gray says Rupli will have a better shot in the general election when Democrats and independents will vote.

Rupli, he says, “exudes integrity. He’s a man I admire.”

If he’s elected, he would work for construction of a second crossing on the Potomac River, desperately needed by commuters and businesses. He favors a program that pays tuition of two years of college — as Tennessee and California have done. And he’s for greater controls on development — changes that would protect the county’s open spaces.

In pursuit of these goals, he says, he would be willing to work with Republicans — something too many in his county reject.

“Much as I hate the word ‘compromise,’ it really is at the root of our democracy,” he says.

And he would remind his Democratic colleagues of their special responsibility.

“With such a majority, we have a special duty to play fair,” he said.

An example of Democratic unfairness? “I think we put our thumb on the scales on redistricting.”

As a warhorse who’s been around the track a few times, Rupli says he’s not interested in titles. What he cares about at this point in his life is preserving his county, state and nation for the next generation.

In pursuit of that end, he would accept senator as a title — or even cannon fodder it that’s what it took.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org