LA PLATA -- GOP candidate Wayne T. Gilchrest received a boost last night from one of the nation's top veterans, Veterans Affairs Secretary Edward J. Derwinski, but even supporters conceded it would be tough for the Republican challenger to overcome Representative Roy P. Dyson, D-Md.-1st, on his home turf in Southern Maryland.
"I think Wayne has all the ingredients of a perfect challenger," Mr. Derwinski told several dozen veterans and supporters at American Legion Post No. 82.
"We want more veterans in the Congress," he added.
Mr. Derwinski did not mention Mr. Dyson in his address, saying later that he wanted to help the candidate in a "positive way" and not dwell on negative campaigning.
But Mr. Gilchrest's veteran status -- he was a Marine sergeant who won a Purple Heart during his Vietnam War service -- stands in contrast to Mr. Dyson's record.
The congressman startled his constituents this year by revealing that he was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.
Mr. Dyson's revelation came only after inquiries from the news media.
Mr. Gilchrest, who lost to Mr. Dyson by fewer than 1,500 votes in 1988, said initially that he would not highlight his Vietnam War status during the campaign, but he has since backed away from that stand.
Adrian Cronauer, the military disc jockey who was portrayed by comedian Robin Williams in the movie "Good Morning, Vietnam!" and who has taped a radio ad for Mr. Gilchrest, introduced Mr. Derwinski last night.
"People in America have a right to choose. . . . People in America respect men and women who fight to preserve that freedom," said Mr. Gilchrest, in a clear reference to Mr. Dyson, although he did not mention the congressman's name.
Mr. Cronauer said, "Wayne is not the typical politician; he is a good man."
Tom Higdon, a retired Air Force major who lives in St. Mary's County, said he hoped that Mr. Gilchrest's increased name recognition would bring him more support than he received in 1988.
"I think you'll find quite a few retired military supporting Gilchrest," he said.
Mr. Derwinski's appearance is the latest attempt by national Republicans to aid Mr. Gilchrest's campaign.
President Bush and Housing Secretary Jack F. Kemp also have endorsed the GOP candidate, who expects Marilyn Quayle, wife of Vice President Dan Quayle, to appear at a fund-raiser.
But some Gilchrest supporters concede that it will be tough for their candidate to beat Mr. Dyson in Charles County and St. Mary's County, his home base. The incumbent carried St. Mary's and Charles counties easily in 1988.
"I think [Mr. Gilchrest] will clearly lose St. Mary's," said Fred Bishopp, the county's coordinator for the Gilchrest campaign.
"I believe Charles is going to make him or break him."
Several others in attendance agreed with Mr. Bishopp's estimate and said they hope Mr. Gilchrest can pick up enough support on the Eastern Shore to win the race.