CHESTERTOWN -- A lot of Republicans believe Wayne T. Gilchrest would have beaten Rep. Roy P. Dyson, D-1st, in 1988 if the party had supported him.
This time, the Republican Party can't wait to help Gilchrest.
Two officials from the National Republican Congressional Committee showed up at Gilchrest's headquarters here yesterday hours after he beat seven Republicans in the 1st District primary.
"They were asking us how they can help us get our message across to the voters," said Gilchrest, weary but pleased following his victory. "They do not want to take over the campaign. They have targeted this as one of several races around the country they want to win."
The state party also intends to help -- "as much as we can," said party leader Joyce L. Terhes.
"I had felt had he gotten state support he probably would have won last time," said Terhes, who became chairwoman last December.
Party officials didn't support Gilchrest, a Kent County teacher and political newcomer, in the primary two years ago. Some wanted him to step aside in favor of another candidate after various controversies began to erode Dyson's strength.
But Gilchrest surprised many people by coming within 1,500 votes of an upset. When it became clear he would win this year's primary, party officials prepared to embrace him.
"I really feel it's ours to win," Terhes said. She is helping organize a meeting Saturday of all the 1st District Republican candidates and party officials "to bring everybody back in the fold."
One Republican candidate, Barry Sullivan, has said he wouldn't support any other candidate because none shared his strong anti-abortion views.
Dyson, meanwhile, also is trying to rally party support for his candidacy. He struck a conciliatory tone toward his defeated opponents after his victory.
"He'll ask Democrats, local and state, to work together," said his campaign manager, Christopher Robinson. "We've always had the support of the Maryland delegation, House and Senate."
Dyson's staff circulated a letter seeking Democratic delegation support before the primary, but his fellow Democrats weren't all willing to sign on. Robinson, however, characterized the matter another way, saying, "We sent a letter but never followed it up."
Dyson's chief opponent, Del. Barbara O. Kreamer, D-Harford, has had an "amicable conversation" with him but needs to "take some time to think about" endorsing him, said her press secretary, Bob DeWeese.
Robinson and Dyson said the primary results show the late-blooming conscientious objector issue -- Dyson had received a CO exemption during the Vietnam War -- was not that important. "Veterans came up to me and said, 'For 10 years you have been in Congress and voting for us and you have an excellent record,'" said Dyson, who plans to emphasize his service to the district.
Neither Dyson nor Gilchrest says he will make an issue of abortion, which some other candidates emphasized during the primaries.
Dyson, who favors restrictions on abortion, says it's not a congressional issue; Gilchrest, who believes women should be able to choose, categorizes it as a personal decision.
"I think non-tidal wetlands will be more of an issue," says Dyson; Gilchrest agrees.
Dyson has introduced legislation to loosen the federal regulatory grip on wetlands. Gilchrest accuses Dyson of trying to capitalize politically on an important issue and says he favors pending state regulations.
Dyson called on Gilchrest to run a positive campaign on the issues. Gilchrest said he opposes negative campaigns, but made clear that Dyson and his record will be major issues.
"One of the reasons I got involved is I didn't see good political leadership," said Gilchrest. "I didn't see good decisions coming out of the incumbent over the last 10 years.
"I think Roy Dyson is a professional politician," Gilchrest said, criticizing him for sending out "blatant political franked mail" at taxpayer expense. "I strongly, strongly feel someone should not make Congress a career."