The two incumbent congressmen battling to represent th re-drawn First Congressional District are as different as two people can get: Democrat Tom McMillen, a wealthy, 7-foot-tall former professional basketball player, Rhodes scholar and Washington insider, and Republican Wayne Gilchrest, the Everyman-teacher-house painter. Their huge battleground takes in the entire Eastern Shore, a chunk of Anne Arundel County extending from Annapolis to the city line, and Curtis Bay inside Baltimore City.
It is difficult to tell who has an advantage. If money talks, Mr. McMillen wins. He intends to spend $1 million on a well-oiled campaign that is making inroads on the shore. Mr. Gilchrest's campaign, estimated to cost one-fifth of his opponent's, is amateur by comparison. That deficiency is offset, however, by the fact that he lives on the shore and truly is one of the people he represents.
But which kind of candidate should win? Which makes a better representative? The sophisticated politician with influence, a broad-based knowledge of international affairs and aspirations to a national political player? Or the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" with limited resources and little finesse, but who looks and talks like his constituents and shares a common experience?
Each candidate has his good and bad points. For instance, while Mr. Gilchrest is less encumbered by ties to other politicians and special interests, he lacks the connections that make Mr. McMillen effective in Washington.
First District voters need to ask the candidates some questions:
Why is Mr. McMillen trying to shift his moderate voting record further to the right? Is he reaching out to a new constituency, or waffling? Can he vote with integrity when he accepts thousands of dollars from special interests? As Congress in general gets criticism for being out of touch with problems of ordinary people, can one who has led such an elevated lifestyle understand them?
Mr. Gilchrest, meanwhile, has established a decidedly pro-business, fiscally conservative record in two years in Washington. But he has gone against his constituency with liberal votes on gun control, abortion and wetlands protection. Is an honest politician who votes his mind, or a naive newcomer who doesn't understand his district? Being an alternative to "professional" politicians isn't enough. He must convince voters he can get things done.
In this race, both candidates are reaching for the center, with Mr. Gilchrest more liberal than the GOP and Mr. McMillen taking a more conservative stance than the Democratic leadership in Congress. First District voters will have to decide which candidate is more credible and/or more capable. The issue is the candidates themselves.