Rep. Roy P. Dyson, D-1st, ended his campaign with a mystery: Will he run again?
He seemed to say yes, or at least maybe, when he reminded his saddened supporters gathered in his Ocean City headquarters last night that he had been defeated once before and come back.
Dyson recalled how he had lost his first race for Congress in 1976 to Republican incumbent Bob Bauman and then won in 1980.
"We put the boots back on and came right back, didn't we?" Dyson said.
The "boots" are his trademark scuffed brown work shoes he wears while campaigning. He had them on last night and playfully lifted his left leg so his supporters could see a boot, if only one more time.
What will he do after the election? Work with his successor, he said, to finish the tasks he had begun through five terms and 10 years in Congress.
"I'll just wear a different hat," he said. "I'll wear the hat of a private citizen doing these things."
With his aides saying they had expected a close but winning race, the defeat surely pained him enormously. Dyson had lost only one other race, the first one against Bauman, in a political career that goes back to when he was just 25 and winning a seat in the General Assembly. That was in 1974, 16 years ago.
Dyson has no college degree. His career before getting elected to the legislature mainly consisted of working as a congressional aide and brief entry-level service at the Democratic National Committee.
It was at the DNC that he met Tom Pappas, who would become his political mentor and ultimately a prime cause of his defeat yesterday. Pappas' suicide in 1988, coming after a damaging newspaper article about his handling of Dyson's staff, helped create a cloud over Dyson that never entirely dissipated.
Dyson arrived at the campaign party, held at the Coconut Malorie Hotel at Fager's Island, just before midnight, well after election results were known. Perhaps hinting at the shock he might have felt, Dyson said he had been walking on the beach, reflecting on his congressional career.
He said he walked on the beach with the late Ocean City Mayor Harry Kelley in 1980, wearing the same boots, after beating Bauman for the first time. "And we said we were going to do a lot of things to help people throughout this district," Dyson said.
"You certainly did," a supporter cried out.
"As I walked up on that beach tonight, I realized that it's very important, all of the things that we have done, it's important that we continue them," Dyson said.
"You know, I've said it to you many times before, I live here. I don't go home to Ohio or Miami or California, I live here in the 1st Congressional District, with my family. So it's important what happens here. And I want things to work well."
"After all," Dyson continued, referring to Gilchrest, "what I think he'll be doing is promoting things we got started."
Dyson repeatedly expressed gratitude to his supporters and to his mother, who stood at his side.
Refusing to answer reporters' questions, Dyson urged his supporters to enjoy the party. "So don't worry about what happened," he said.
He walked slowly through the crowd, embracing each person emotionally, whispering comments, before leaving for a private gathering.