Gilchrest, McMillen trade cross-bay thrusts in 1st District duel

March 05, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

An article in The Sun yesterday included a statemen attributed to Rep. Tom McMillen saying he agreed with political opponents that he may be viewed as an outsider on the Eastern Shore.

Mr. McMillen said he disputed that belief.

* The Sun regrets the error.

The two congressmen running against each other next fall in Maryland's 1st District may be a study in contrasts, but each launched his general election campaign yesterday with a

pre-emptive strike into his opponent's home turf.

Republican Wayne Gilchrest, the quiet Kent County schoolteacher-turned-politician, promised to open a campaign office in Anne Arundel County -- a base of support for his rival, Democrat Tom McMillen. He also appointed Robert P. Duckworth, the Anne Arundel-based Republican he defeated in the primary, as honorary chairman of his Arundel campaign, a move intended to win votes in communities such as Annapolis, Glen Burnie and Millersville.


Mr. McMillen, a Rhodes scholar and former professional basketball player from Crofton, pledged yesterday to use "a lot of shoe leather" in the Eastern Shore communities that are the heart of Mr. Gilchrest's political base.

"We're going to be as aggressive as we can be on the Eastern Shore; we're going to be over there every day," Mr. McMillen said. "People are going to be tired of seeing Tom McMillen."

The 4th District, which Mr.McMillen currently represents, was redrawn in the redistricting plan that created a black-majority congressional district in Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Mr. McMillen chose to run against Mr. Gilchrest, a more down-home kind of politician.

Mr. Gilchrest has represented the Eastern Shore portion of the newly formed 1st District since 1990, while Mr. McMillen has represented the portion of the 1st across the bay in Anne Arundel County for three terms.

Mr. McMillen received 33,030 votes, or 55 percent of the Democratic votes Tuesday, while Mr. Gilchrest won 16,981 or 47 percent of the Republican vote.

Those results set the stage for one of the most interesting political contests this year, pitting against one another two congressmen who have very different styles and different ways of thinking and who seem to have different views about what is important.

"In all my life, I've never been in a situation where voters have penalized people for devoting themselves to achieving excellence," Mr. McMillen said.

He said he believes assertions by political opponents that his successful career -- in business, in Congress and in athletics -- will be dismissed by Eastern Shore farmers and watermen because of perceptions that he is an outsider.

"I think this campaign will be decided on the issues, and not on where you sleep at night," he said, later adding, "I've worked hard for everything that I've accomplished and I find it ironic that people now say I might be penalized for it."

Mr. Gilchrest, a father of three, plays on different themes when talking about what's important to the Eastern Shore. "I've never been one for glamour. If I can see that a man's got dirt under his fingernails and he's cleaned manure from a barn, then he's someone I'm more comfortable with than someone with glamour," he said.

The McMillen and Gilchrest camps have pledged to stick to the issues, but with so much at stake there already are indications that the promise will be broken.

"This [Mr. Gilchrest] is an inexperienced elected official who has not shown any leadership ability so far in Congress," said Nathan Landow, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party.

Kevin Igoe, head of the Maryland Republican Party, counters that Mr. McMillen may have too much of a silk stocking profile for a district where most voters make their living off the land and the water.

"I think he's got a real image problem," he said. "People are turnedoff by all that money."

Both sides say they saw reason for optimism in Tuesday's results.

Running a low-key campaign, Mr. Gilchrest got two out of every three Republican votes cast on the Eastern Shore. The shore makes up about 60 percent of the district's registered voters. Mr. McMillen took 55 percent of the Democratic votes.

The district has five Democrats for every three Republicans.

But observers say party registration means little in this congressional race, and that what happened in the primary may seem like ancient history by the November election.

"In the primary, everybody is kind of nice and nobody really goes after anybody," said state Del. Samuel Q. Johnson, an Eastern Shore Democrat who lost to Mr. McMillen and is still undecided about whom to support. "In the general [election], people tend to dig a little deeper. It could be a whole different story next fall."

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