Gilchrest topples Dyson in the 1st District

November 07, 1990|By Tom Bowman William F. Zorzi Jr. and Martin C. Evans of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest, a folksy Kent County high school teacher pledging "honesty and integrity," captured his first political office last night, beating 1st District Representative Roy P. Dyson, a five-term incumbent stained by questions about his ethics.

Mr. Gilchrest beat Mr. Dyson by 57 percent to 43 percent, capturing all but three of the 13 counties in the district. The congressman carried only his home county of St. Mary's, along with Worcester and Somerset counties on the Eastern Shore.

"I can count, and the numbers aren't with us," Mr. Dyson told teary supporters at Coconut Malorie Hotel in Ocean City shortly before 11:30 p.m. He urged them to back his opponent. "God bless Wayne Gilchrest," he said.

"We're proud of this victory," Mr. Gilchrest told a television interviewer at American Legion Post 36 in Chestertown, where some 200 of his jubilant supporters had gathered. "If you look around the room, you'll see people who worked hard. They stuffed envelopes, they ran a positive campaign."

Mr. Gilchrest vowed to stay in Congress "about 10 years, 12 max." He said he hoped to concentrate on national energy policy.

Vice President Dan Quayle and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack F. Kemp, both of whom had stumped for Mr. Gilchrest, called to offer their congratulations.

Mr. Dyson called Mr. Gilchrest at 10:30 p.m., conceded defeat and wished him luck, according to Desiree Green, a spokeswoman for Mr. Dyson. "I hope the people of Maryland know Roy Dyson worked hard for the district," she said.

Some of Mr. Dyson's supporters were morose and bitter over the loss.

"I think it's a sad day for Maryland," said John Staley, a campaign worker from Ocean City. "It's a sad day, and they're going to pay for that."

Others blamed the media, particularly The Sun, for the defeat. "You murdered him. You've been witch-hunting him for four years," supporter Loretta H. Singman told a reporter. "We'll be losing a good man."

The congressman did not appear completely surprised by the result. When he arrived at the Valley Lee Volunteer Fire Department to cast his vote shortly before 10 a.m., he was overheard offering a prescient comment to a fellow voter. "I don't worry here," he had said, referring to his Southern Maryland base, "but we worry about the other areas [of the district]."

Mr. Gilchrest's strongest support was on the Upper Shore. The battleground was the Lower Shore, where long-running political ads turned both candidates into virtual TV and radio personalities. While Mr. Dyson picked up Worcester and Somerset, Mr. Gilchrest picked up the more populous counties of Wicomico, Talbot and Dorchester. The GOP candidate also won Charles County, another area with a high concentration of voters that Mr. Dyson had easily carried in 1988 against him.

In the final weeks, the campaign turned particularly bitter for a contest that had begun with both candidates calling for a positive, issues-oriented match.

During a debate on Maryland Public Television, Mr. Dyson -- FTC hampered by charges of ties to special interests -- suddenly pulled out a letter sent by the Gilchrest camp to 200 political action committees asking for donations.

Mr. Dyson went on a bitter offensive in the final days, with advertisements charging that Mr. Gilchrest was "unemployed" last year, "got caught" taking money from his campaign and "supports freezing Social Security" to balance the federal budget.

The allegations were vehemently denied by Mr. Gilchrest, who aired a radio ad that included an endorsement from The Sun and asked voters whether they "believed" the congressman or "veteran, teacher, family man Wayne Gilchrest." Mr. Dyson is a bachelor.

Rarely have there been two more diverse candidates.

A New Jersey native, Mr. Gilchrest, 44, is a high school teacher and part-time house painter with a folksy humor and philosophical air. He once took a year off with his family to live in a cabin in Idaho. On several issues the Kent County Republican was decidedly liberal, favoring gun control and abortion rights and dismissing a constitutional amendment to protect the American flag.

By contrast, Mr. Dyson, 41, is a conservative Democrat whose family owns a lumber business in Southern Maryland. He has been involved in politics most of his adult life, serving first in the Maryland House of Delegates and representing the 1st District in Congress since 1981.

Since his narrow victory over Mr. Gilchrest in 1988 -- after the suicide of his chief of staff and charges of unethical behavior -- Mr. Dyson attended dozens of town meetings and tried to shore up his political base.

As 1990 approached, he was viewed as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the nation, and ended up with 11 Democratic and Republican challengers. But he surprised the political establishment and easily dispatched Delegate Barbara O. Kreamer, D-Harford, in a heated primary contest.

In the general election campaign the five-term congressman blanketed the district with mailings, outspent his GOP opponent by at least 3-to-1 and picked up strong support from organized labor, a key ally.

He portrayed himself as a lawmaker who helped secure federal contracts, clean up the Chesapeake Bay and meet the needs of constituents, all the while painting his opponent as untested and out of touch with the conservative district.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gilchrest, after beating back seven more-conservative Republicans in the primary for a rematch with Mr. Dyson, unveiled a campaign style he described as "rustic humility." He vowed to return "honesty and integrity" to government.

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