The first debate between Rep. Roy P. Dyson, D-1st, and Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest escalated like a bloody Civil War battle until both sides were so badly wounded victory seemed irrelevant.
For 30 minutes last night, Maryland Public Television viewers saw Dyson and Gilchrest interrupt, mock and attack each other on issues ranging from Social Security to Dyson's conscientious objector status in the Vietnam War.
If the debate had gone on any longer, MPT might have had to caution parents against permitting children to watch.
Dyson forced Gilchrest to admit that he has sought special interest campaign contributions -- a charge Gilchrest had been using very effectively against Dyson.
The five-term Democrat, looking more comfortable on television than his less experienced opponent, accused Gilchrest of supporting cuts in Social Security and controls on guns. He also tried to link Gilchrest to an independent Republican group that has sponsored two commercials attacking Dyson.
Gilchrest vehemently denied the accusations and any connection with the Free State Republican Fund's anti-Dyson advertisements. He counterattacked by contrasting his Vietnam War service in the Marines with Dyson's CO draft exemption, which Dyson reluctantly disclosed this past summer:
"Roy, I would like to ask you how you can say the Vietnam War was immoral," Gilchrest said to Dyson at one point.
"Well," Dyson responded, "I did feel that way, Wayne."
Dyson sought to shift the conversation from the war to support he's received from a veterans' organization and his support for the failed effort to secure a constitutional amendment banning flag burning, an amendment Gilchrest had said was unnecessary.
"The flag amendment was very important," Dyson said.
"You know," Gilchrest said, "I fought so you'd have the freedom to be a conscientious objector. Did you thank me for that?"
"Thank you," Dyson said.
When Dyson produced a document showing that Gilchrest has sought special interest political action committee contributions, he said: "Wayne, you can't have it both ways."
Gilchrest said he had no choice in raising funds against an incumbent who depends on PAC money. Once in Congress, he'd fight against PAC funding, he suggested.
"As soon as I'm there we'll see the change," he said.
After the debate, Gilchrest and his press secretary said the campaign has asked about 200 PACs for funds. The campaign has refused to accept PAC money from some groups "because we don't agree with their particular philosophy," Gilchrest said.
The PAC document was one of several items Dyson brought to the debate and wielded like a Samurai sword against Gilchrest. He also brought letters he said senior citizens sent to him opposing cuts in Social Security and increased Medicare charges.
Gilchrest said he favored congressional budget proposals that included a "small" increase in Medicare charges. But he denied saying that "stiff hikes in Medicare could be absorbed" by senior citizens, a quote attributed to him in a newspaper article Dyson read aloud.