Poking fun at foe helps Gilchrest purse

September 28, 1992|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

More campaign contributions, Mr. Gilchrest?

Surprised campaigners for 1st District congressional candidate Wayne T. Gilchrest are hearing exactly that question after they launched a radio ad poking fun at opponent Tom McMillen's numerous flights abroad and across the country.

Based on a report that listed Mr. McMillen as among the top 100 congressmen to have accepted free travel and accommodations from special interest groups, the ad depicts the Democratic candidate being pampered by a flight attendant.

"Fluff your pillow, Mr. McMillen? More champagne, Mr. McMillen? More sushi, Mr. McMillen?," the attendant asks in the cheeky ad that has been aired on five Baltimore radio stations since last week.

The ad claims that Mr. Gilchrest, in contrast, accepted only one speaking engagement -- in Ocean City -- and drove to the event in his own vehicle.

Mr. Gilchrest, a Republican, said he anticipated a negative reaction from the McMillen camp.

But he said yesterday that he was surprised to learn that the ad has been one of his campaign's best money-raisers.

"My god, so many people have called and contributed," he said. "People who didn't know my name before know me now."

Tony Caligiuri, Mr. Gilchrest's campaign manager, said the campaign budgeted $20,000 to buy air time for the ad and may place it on more stations on the Eastern Shore.

"It's paying for itself," said Mr. Caligiuri. "We don't have the money to run a traditional campaign this time. We have to replace money with creativity."

Financial reports show that Mr. McMillen has raised more than $285,000 -- six times the amount raised by Mr. Gilchrest -- to pay for his re-election bid.

Mr. Gilchrest is a first-term congressman from the 1st District. Mr. McMillen was elected to Congress from the 4th District in 1987. This year, the two incumbents are facing each other in the newly drawn 1st District, which includes the Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel County and Baltimore.

The ad is based on a report issued a year ago by Public Citizens Congress Watch, a group based in Washington.

The group reported that Mr. McMillen accepted 30 trips funded by political action committees and other special interest groups.

The Gilchrest campaign first used the data about Mr. McMillen's trips in a press release issued earlier this month.

Yesterday, Mr. McMillen accused his opponent of "distorting" thfacts about his traveling and said none of the trips interfered with his duties as a congressman.

"Wayne's just like President Bush," said Mr. McMillen. "He doesn't want to talk about his record. He just distracts the voters. Wayne Gilchrest is contributing to the polluting of American politics."

Mr. McMillen called the report "old news" and charged that Mr. Gilchrest was raising the issue to divert voter attention from what he said was the Republican's lackluster record in Congress.

He said that as a former professional basketball player, he is well known and sought after as a public speaker.

In an interview with The Sun last week, Mr. McMillen said he expected the Gilchrest campaign to turn negative.

Mr. Gilchrest insisted that the ad is "funny, not personal" and said that it focuses on a legitimate campaign issue.

"This is not a personal attack," he said. "This adds some information for the voters to evaluate, with a little humor in it."

Mr. Gilchrest said that he rejected the ad as "a little too cute" when it was first proposed to him. But campaign workers later talked him into running it for a few days as a test. He also said he nearly pulled it from the air after hearing it over the radio, but the positive response helped change his mind.

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