SALISBURY -- Trailing in a new poll, Rep. Roy P. Dyson, D-1st, is attacking the credibility and character of Republican challenger Wayne T. Gilchrest in the campaign's final days.
Dyson concluded a televised debate here last night by suggesting that Gilchrest was violating federal law by drawing a salary from campaign funds -- a practice the Federal Election Commission has said is legal.
Dyson is making the same allegation and others in a new campaign commercial that began airing yesterday on radio stations in Baltimore and around the district.
Meanwhile, WBAL radio and television reported that Dyson is trailing Gilchrest 47 percent to 40 percent with 13 percent undecided. The election is Tuesday.
Dyson shrugged off the poll, saying his own recent poll put him 9 points ahead of Gilchrest.
Gilchrest offered a mild "sounds good" response to the station's poll and instead focused on rebutting Dyson's allegations, which he said are untrue.
"If [Dyson] said before he wasn't going to run a negative campaign, I'd like to ask him why he is," Gilchrest said before the start of the debate sponsored by WBOC television. "I guess he's run out of ideas."
Dyson said in the debate that news reports show "Wayne has been drawing a weekly salary through his campaign. I have here before me the Ethics in Government Act of 1989 where it's very clear in here campaign funds can only be used for campaign or political purposes."
Dyson is capitalizing on a disclosure that Gilchrest's campaign itself made recently in a federal campaign finance report. The report showed that Gilchrest began receiving a weekly salary of $250 -- $208 after taxes -- on Sept. 27.
At that rate, Gilchrest would receive a total of $1,248 in after-tax salary through Election Day. That's about 1 percent of the more than $127,000 in contributions aides say his campaign has received since the Republican primary in September.
"I'm not a rich man," said Gilchrest, who is on a leave of absence from his Kent County teaching job. He says he uses the money to cover expenses he incurs while campaigning.
Gilchrest and his aides note that federal law does not prohibit challengers from drawing a salary. They say that permits poorer candidates to take time to campaign.
Dyson acknowledged in an interview following the debate that federal law applies only to incumbents. Nevertheless, he said, "if you believe in this process and want to clean it up, the important thing to do is to live by the spirit of the law. He's obviously not doing that."
Dyson's 30-second commercial asserts that Gilchrest "got caught taking money out of his own campaign for personal use" and terms the practice "wrong."
Asked to explain the phrase "got caught," Dyson's campaign manager, Chris Robinson, said: "I think getting caught means people see how he uses campaign contributions for a personal purpose."
The rest of the commercial charges that Gilchrest "supports freezing Social Security as a way to balance the federal budget," asserts he was "unemployed last year" and quotes an unnamed Republican as saying, "'He is not the humble man he appears to be but actually a calculating, deceptive politician.'"
"No wonder Gilchrest describes himself as a little bit crazy," a narrator says in the commercial. "A little bit crazy?"
Dyson said the commercial is not "negative campaigning." He said the issues raised are "real."
Though Gilchrest has often said he opposes any cuts in Social Security, Dyson and Robinson insist he once said otherwise. Asked for proof earlier this week, they say it exists but have yet to provide it.
Gilchrest says he was not unemployed last year, contrary to what the commercial contends. A personal financial disclosure statement he was required to file in July as a candidate shows he worked as a teacher and house painter last year.
He also listed $1,172 in income from the state employment office, which he says was a salary for work on a project involving migrant workers, not unemployment compensation, as this newspaper earlier reported.
Dyson and Robinson accuse Gilchrest of negative campaigning, the latest example being a current Gilchrest commercial that charges Dyson was "avoiding the draft" during the Vietnam War while the Republican was serving in it as a Marine.
Gilchrest this week has intensified efforts to contrast his Marine service with the conscientious objector draft exemption Dyson obtained during the war and revealed for the first time in August.
Dyson has said he obtained the CO exemption because he believed the war was immoral.