ANNAPOLIS -- One of the top conservatives in Congress came here last night to boost the re-election campaign of Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, in the midst of a local conservative insurrection against the freshman Republican.
While House Minority Leader Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., backed his fellow lawmaker at the $50-per-person fund-raiser, Mr. Gilchrest's primary challenger, Lisa G. Renshaw, was enlisting conservatives to battle a candidate she terms "a liberal."
"I have grown to have great fondness for Wayne Gilchrest," Mr. Gingrich told some 60 Republicans last night. "I hope you'll work your heart out to keep him [in Congress]."
Mr. Gingrich acknowledged that Mr. Gilchrest -- like other members of his party -- casts votes the Atlanta congressman would not have made. "I'm not going to say to you I agree with Wayne on every vote," he said. But he portrayed the congressman as a "hard-working" lawmaker who listens to all sides of an issue and combines "decency and integrity and sincerity."
But when Ms. Renshaw, a 30-year-old Anne Arundel businesswoman, kicked off her campaign last month, she said that Mr. Gilchrest "has abandoned the principles of the Republican Party."
She has picked up the support of two Eastern Shore conservative Republicans in her quest for the nomination: Richard L. Andrews, a Talbot County Republican committeeman, and Lollo Pennewell, former chairwoman of the Worcester County Republican Party.
Both signed letters denouncing Mr. Gilchrest for his votes on gun control, wetlands and abortion legislation.
And the Renshaw campaign has distributed the letters to 30,000 Republican voters in Anne Arundel County and the Eastern Shore.
"In Congress, Wayne Gilchrest has rejected Republican values,"wrote Mr. Andrews in the letter mailed Nov. 27 throughout Anne Arundel County. The Pennewell letter was distributed on the Eastern Shore this week.
Mr. Gilchrest, a 45-year-old former high school teacher, captured the seat last year from Democrat Roy P. Dyson, a 10-year incumbent whose campaign was plagued by charges of ethical lapses. Although a fiscal conservative, Mr. Gilchrest favors abortion rights and has taken a more liberal view on other issues. He supported a seven-day waiting period for purchasing handguns and has been a leader in the House on preserving wetlands from development.
Mr. Gilchrest has been nonchalant in his attitude toward Ms. Renshaw as well as toward Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, who was drawn into the Gilchrest district this fall by the state legislature's congressional redistricting.
Last night Mr. Gilchrest he did not mention either candidate by name, saying only that while his opponents label him a liberal he is a "moderate."
Mr. Gingrich, meanwhile, criticized Mr. McMillen -- who is slated to kick off his Democratic campaign today -- as being "a team player for the left."
State GOP leaders are standing behind Mr. Gilchrest and have been unsuccessful in their efforts to persuade Ms. Renshaw to drop theMarch 3 primary race and instead take on Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd.
Kevin Igoe, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, and other GOP leaders deny that Mr. Gilchrest is too liberal. They say they believe he can prevail by promoting his pro-business record. "I think Gilchrest can handle Renshaw," Mr. Igoe said.
Last night's fund-raiser was the first Western Shore campaign appearance for Mr. Gilchrest. The Eastern Shore lawmaker's district will drop Southern Maryland and pick up portions of Anne Arundel County and Baltimore in the newly drawn 1st District.
Sixty percent of the new district's vote is located on the Shore.