Republican challenger Wayne T. Gilchrest has pulled ahead of Democratic Representative Roy P. Dyson in their heated contest to represent the 1st Congressional District, according to The Sun Poll of likely voters in the district.
The poll -- conducted last week -- found that 45 percent said they
would vote for Mr. Gilchrest, while
39 percent backed the congressman, who is campaigning for a sixth term. Sixteen percent were undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
The latest poll shows a slip in support for the lawmaker from Southern Maryland, who was ahead of Mr. Gilchrest in a Sun Poll conducted in September. That poll showed Mr. Dyson with 48 percent, compared with 42 percent for Mr. Gilchrest.
Meanwhile, a poll taken last week for WBAL-TV found Mr. Gilchrest leading the congressman 47 percent to 40 percent, with 12 percent undecided.
The Sun Poll, conducted by KPC Research of Charlotte, N.C., questioned 622 voters from Sunday through Friday and found that Mr. Gilchrest, 44, a Kent County teacher, is leading the 41-year-old congressman throughout the area, with the exception of Mr. Dyson's Southern Maryland base, where the congressman enjoys a wide lead.
"We're pleased with it. It sounds good," said Mr. Gilchrest, who lost to Mr. Dyson by less than 1,500 votes in 1988. "Some of our ideas are catching on."
The Dyson campaign did not respond to inquiries about the poll results.
he latest Sun Poll also showed that Mr. Dyson's negative rating among his constituents has increased. Forty-four percent of voters polled had an unfavorable opinion of the congressman, compared with 32 percent last month.
Fourteen percent of the respondents had a negative view of Mr. Gilchrest, compared with 11 percent in last month's poll. Twenty-nine percent had no opinion, compared with 26 percent last month.
Meanwhile, the congressman's job rating has remained relatively constant. Fewer than half -- 43 percent -- of voters rated Mr. Dyson's performance in Congress as good or excellent in September, compared with 39 percent in the latest poll. Meanwhile, 52 percent gave the congressman a fair or poor job rating in the September poll; that rating rose to 54 percent last week.
One political consultant said the election-eve poll figures on Mr. Dyson are fatal to a congressman who has been in office 10 years. "For an incumbent to be behind at this time and be at 40 percent is predicting defeat," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of The Political Report. "People should know the guy and should like him."
The undecided vote has increased by 6 percentage points since The Sun Poll in September. The high number of undecided voters suggests they "are looking for a reason not to vote for him," Mr. Rothenberg said.
The congressman, however, has beaten the odds before. He handily won the Democratic primary in September, despite poor showings in polls. Some of those questioned for the poll praised the congressman, pointing to his constituent work or personal ties.
Gary Cooper, 55, a Worcester County Democrat, said friends have received help from Mr. Dyson on veteran's issues. "He's always in there helping whenever he can help," Mr. Cooper said. "Gilchrest, I don't know anything about."
"I know his whole family, I worked with his two uncles," said Agatha Price of Salisbury. "He's a person you can always talk to. His office is always available."
The latest Sun Poll results come at the end of an increasingly bitter contest between Mr. Gilchrest and the congressman, who has been troubled the last 2 1/2 years by questions about his ties to defense contractors and most recently his actions during the Vietnam War.
Mr. Gilchrest has spent the campaign pledging to restore "honesty and integrity" to government, a veiled reference to Mr. Dyson's woes. And he has also contrasted his
combat service in Vietnam -- where he won a Purple Heart -- with Mr. Dyson's history of draft deferments and eventual conscientious objector status during the conflict.
Mr. Dyson has stressed that he has brought millions of dollars in government contracts to the district and has worked hard to solve constituent problems. He also has characterized Mr. Gilchrest as inexperienced and too liberal for the district.
That contention has appealed to some of the those polled who agreed to be interviewed later for attribution. "He's pro-life; Gilchrest is not," said Donald Strawser, 43, an electrical engineer from Calvert County.
Mr. Gilchrest and Mr. Dyson clashed in televised debates last week. The final days of the campaign also have been marked by hard-hitting campaign ads. The congressman charged that his GOP challenger was "unemployed" last year and "got caught" taking money from his campaign, charges vehemently denied by Mr. Gilchrest. The Gilchrest ads asked voters whether they "believe" the congressman or "veteran, teacher, family man, Wayne Gilchrest." Mr. Dyson is a bachelor.