Lessons in Gilchrest's Win

November 07, 1990

Wayne Gilchrest said last night that he hoped his victory in the First Congressional District would set an example for races everywhere in the future: "Stick to truth, stick to decency, stick to honesty, stick to issues." Mr. Gilchrest campaigned in the way he described. His doing so won him many votes. But there were other elements in his victory that his Republican Party especially, but also Democrats on the outs, should ponder.

First, he had a weakened opponent. Rep. Roy Dyson sullied his record by getting too cozy with campaign contributors and oblivious to conflicts between special and public interests.

Second, Mr. Gilchrest was well known when he entered the race. That is because he had run once before -- and barely lost -- and was willing to run again. Too often, the out parties in congressional districts run token, unknown candidates, thus contributing to the success of incumbents.

In this year of voter unrest, many incumbents without Mr. Dyson's liabilities encountered trouble. Rep. Tom McMillen in the Fourth Congressional District had a relatively close race, given the under-financed campaign of his little-known opponent. A well-financed, well-qualified and easily recognized Republican might have defeated him. Same thing with Democratic Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

Even in this year's race for governor, if Republican Bill Shepard had not been inexperienced and so frivolous in choosing his wife as his running mate, who knows what might have happened. Gov. William Donald Schaefer got far fewer votes than he did four years ago, losing a surprising number of counties outside metropolitan areas.

A third point to consider when Republicans study their victory in the First District is that demands for ideological purity were absent here. Too often Republican conservatives have refused to support and work for candidates who did not agree with them on every item on their agenda. That has helped keep them a permanent minority in the House. In the First District, the moderate Mr. Gilchrest was supported by local and national Republicans representing the gamut of political philosophy. The GOP unity attracted Democratic voters.

We endorsed Mr. Gilchrest and we wish him well. The First District has been a jinx for several of his predecessors. Some had character flaws that are in no way evident in the Wayne Gilchrest we have seen in action now in four campaigns -- two primary and two general elections.

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