Representative Roy P. Dyson, D-Md.-1st, handily defeated Harford County Delegate Barbara O. Kreamer to win the Democratic nomination last night -- overcoming revelations about his Vietnam War draft record and speculation about his political demise.
The Southern Maryland lawmaker dominated his chief Democratic rival throughout most of the sprawling 13-county district, especially in the Lower Shore and his home base of St. Mary's County. Mrs. Kreamer did well in the Upper Shore and her home base of Harford.
Meanwhile, GOP contender Wayne T. Gilchrest far outpaced his seven Republican challengers to capture a second chance to run against Mr. Dyson in November. Mr. Gilchrest came within 1,500 votes of beating Mr. Dyson in 1988.
"I think it's a tremendous vote of confidence," said a relieved Mr. Dyson from his campaign headquarters in Salisbury, where about 100 supporters spilled out onto the City Square.
Many political observers believed the congressman was headed for a tight primary race against Mrs. Kreamer following recent revelations that he was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. A Sun Poll conducted only last week indicated the primary result would be much closer.
The congressman said voters dimissed the bad news that dominated the last two weeks of the campaign.
"A lot of people saw that for what it was: politics, dirty politics," said the congressman, flanked by television cameras and reporters, saying he was confident he would defeat Mr. Gilchrest, a Kent County teacher, in the fall campaign.
Mr. Dyson said he traditionally does better against candidates the second time around and expected the press to offer greater scrutiny of Mr. Gilchrest in November.
Mrs. Kreamer, a member of the House of Delegates since 1983, conceded that the campaign evaporated before she could reach voters in the huge 1st District, which stretches from Pennsylvania to Virginia and straddles both sides of the Chesapeake Bay. "We needed more time to get the message out about who I was vs. the candidate," she said.
Meanwhile, on the GOP side, Mr. Gilchrest savored his victory from his Chestertown headquarters. "We worked hard on this thing and we feel good about it," said Mr. Gilchrest, who said he was strengthened by the race and looked forward to once again facing Mr. Dyson. "Our goal is good government."
Mr. Gilchrest and Maryland Republican Party Chairman Joyce Lyons Terhes said the first order of business will be to unite the Republican challengers at a meeting scheduled Saturday on Kent Island.
Mrs. Terhes conceded that effort "is going to be difficult," although she hoped the seven challengers would realize "the president needs another Republican."
Officials from the National Republican Congressional Committee also are expected to attend the Kent Island meeting, said Mrs. Terhes, to plan strategy for the fall campaign.
Mrs. Terhes said Republicans hope to focus on the congressman's receipt of political action committee money from defense contractors, his House voting record and his conscientious objector status. Mrs. Terhes predicted the CO issue would be important, especially when compared with the Vietnam War combat record of Mr. Gilchrest, who was awarded a Purple Heart.
"I think it will be extremely [important] when you look at Wayne Gilchrest with the Purple Heart who didn't turn and run," she said.
Republicans hope to spend between $700,000 and $1 million on the race, she said. Two years ago, Mr. Gilchrest spent about $118,000 in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Mr. Dyson.
But focusing on the Vietnam War did not sit well with Mr. Gilchrest, a political maverick, whose liberal stands on issues are outside the Republican mainstream.
"I'm not going to stand on the shoulders of people who died in Vietnam for political purposes," said Mr. Gilchrest, who said he does not plan on using the issue in television or radio ads. "Mr. Dyson's going to have to deal with his own CO status.
"I'm not going to get into the politics as usual with negative campaigns," he said.
At the same time, Mr. Gilchrest seemed surprised that Republicans would spend so much on his campaign.
"I would not like to spend $700,000 on a campaign," he said. "I would like to spend $100,000 and give $600,000 to the schools for some books."
Many political analysts considered the primary bid to be a tossup for Mr. Dyson, a 41-year-old Great Mills Democrat. The congressman barely survived his 1988 race following the suicide of his top aide, Thomas M. Pappas, and questions about his heavy reliance on defense industry money.
Throughout the campaign, the congressman highlighted his constituent work and his ability to bring federal dollars to the 1st District with the slogan: "Getting the job done and getting it done right."