EASTON -- Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest and Democrat Tom McMillen led by comfortable margins last night in Maryland's new 1st Congressional District, paving the way for a battle of incumbents in the fall general election.
With 85 percent of the precincts reporting, each congressman was leading his closest challenger by a comfortable margin.
Mr. Gilchrest currently represents the Eastern Shore portion of the trans-Chesapeake district, while Mr. McMillen has been representing the portion across the bay in Anne Arundel County. Both men voted at their home precincts as soon as the polls opened yesterday morning before spending most of the day in Washington, where the U.S. House of Representatives was in session.
At his modest campaign headquarters in Chestertown last night, Mr. Gilchrest described his mood as "a cross between feeling good and apprehension."
Mr. Gilchrest said he fought hard in a heated campaign against Lisa Renshaw, a parking lot owner from Anne Arundel County who used forums, radio ads and press releases to wage a spirited attack against him.
"The end of the campaign will prove whether or not negative campaigning works," he said.
At the McMillen Election Day headquarters in Glen Burnie, supporters were seeing the returns as evidence the Democrat will do well in the general election.
The redrawn district, which includes the Eastern Shore, part of Anne Arundel County and a few South Baltimore districts, provided a few surprises for voters.
"People were very confused," said Nancy Crawford, Anne Arundel's election administrator. "They arrived in the polling places and the people they went to vote for weren't in their district."
Among Maryland's eight congressional districts, the 1st was unique in that two incumbents were seeking primary wins to face each other in the November general election.
Mr. Gilchrest lives in Kent County and has represented the 1st District in Washington since he won his first election in 1990.
Mr. McMillen, who lives in Crofton in Anne Arundel County, lost most of his 4th District in the remapping process. After debating where to run for re-election, he chose the sprawling 1st.
In Annapolis, voters had made the move from the 4th District int the 1st along with Mr. McMillen. At Heritage Baptist Church in Annapolis, seamstress Jolyn Johnson was able to vote for Mr. McMillen once again, saying she did so because "what he says he usually does."
"I think he's been a pretty good congressman," said fellow Democrat Jim Bradford, a pension fund contractor.
While many candidates used yesterday for last-minute campaign activities, this year's early primary contest caught two other congressional hopefuls in the midst of the Maryland General Assembly session.
Democratic Dels. John C. Astle of Anne Arundel County and Samuel Q. Johnson of Wicomico County were forced to put their congressional campaigns aside and attend to their work in the State House.
"Anybody in the position is working with a handicap," said Mr. Johnson, who rushed from Annapolis to Salisbury in order to spend the evening at his campaign headquarters. "With a later primary, I could have gotten in my pickup truck and seen everybody."
Ms. Renshaw, who aggressively attacked Mr. Gilchrest throughout the campaign for what she said were his broken promises and position flip-flops, spent much of the day campaigning on the Lower Eastern Shore.
Michael Gannon, a campaign worker, said Ms. Renshaw hoped PTC to do well in Cecil County and on the Lower Shore where Mr. Gilchrest had come under fire for his position on wetlands policy and his handling of constituent requests for help.
Renshaw supporters clung to the hopes of winning the primary race throughout the day and scheduled what they called a "victory party" in a Salisbury restaurant.
Mr. Gilchrest also faced primary opposition from Robert P. Duckworth, who ran unsuccessfully against Mr. McMillen two years ago in the 4th, and public schoolteacher Edward F. Taylor. A fourth candidate, Michael Jackson, dropped out of the race before his name could be removed from the ballot. All of Mr. Gilchrest's challengers live in Anne Arundel County.
The Democratic race included James Brown of Caroline County and Ocean City resident Herbert Anthony Mamet, as well as Mr. McMillen. With the help of large billboard ads, a TV spot paid for by real estate agents and a heavy schedule of personal appearances, the incumbent relied heavily on conventional campaign aids to boost his image.
William Blake, an Easton resident, said he voted for Mr. McMillen yesterday because he had followed the incumbent since he was a college basketball player and Rhodes Scholar.
"They threw him in a new district, so I wanted to give him a shot," said Mr. Blake.