McMillen gets late donations as poll puts him even with Gilchrest 11th-hour blitz of ads under way

November 01, 1992|By Tom Bowman and William Thompson | Tom Bowman and William Thompson,Staff Writers

Last-minute donations from special interest groups and political parties are flowing into the campaign of Democratic Rep. Tom McMillen, as new poll results show his cross-bay contest against GOP Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest in a dead heat.

"We're just going to go steady. We feel pretty good," said Mr. Gilchrest, a Kent County lawmaker, who spent most of yesterday in Anne Arundel County.

Mr. McMillen traveled about the Eastern Shore before swinging back to his home turf of Anne Arundel. "I'm ready for this to be over," he said, downing a bowl of steaming chili at a Preston restaurant.

Both candidates shared 42 percent of the vote with 16 percent undecided, according to poll results received Wednesday by Mr. McMillen, said a campaign source. But the Crofton Democrat dismissed the results as stale, saying phone banks now indicate he may be pulling ahead.

Mr. McMillen is targeting northern Anne Arundel County and portions of the Eastern Shore where he hopes to win over undecided voters. Mr. Gilchrest's 11th-hour strategy is to woo voters in Annapolis, where campaign manager Tony Caligiuri said the first-term congressman should be able to pick up more support.

Besides infusions of cash from the Democrats, Mr. McMillen is picking up thousands of dollars from special interest groups ranging from the National Association of Realtors to the Ironworkers Political Action League, federal records show.

The three-term congressman has already spent $1.1 million -- more than four times his opponent -- in his effort to capture the district that stretches from Baltimore's Curtis Bay to Crisfield on the lowest reaches of the Eastern Shore. Mr. Gilchrest has spent $256,000.

Within the last few days, Mr. McMillen picked up another $32,600 in political action committee (PAC) donations from such groups as the Columbia Gas Employee PAC and the National Association of Life Underwriters.

Mr. Gilchrest's records show he collected $4,000 in PAC money, including a $1,000 donation from Campaign America, the PAC of Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas.

Meanwhile, both campaigns are stepping up their advertising war in a heated exchange of TV commercials and mailings.

Ten or 11 separate McMillen leaflets will have reached district homes by election day, said campaign manager Brad Fitch, including three he termed "negative."

The Gilchrest campaign is relying upon ads that portray Mr. McMillen as an outsider who is trying to buy the election with contributions from special interest groups.

Throughout the fall campaign, the McMillen camp has defended its negative tone by blaming Mr. Gilchrest for starting the mudslinging.

An early Gilchrest radio ad mocked the Democrat's acceptance of free travel to speaking engagements paid by special interest groups.

"I've had a hard time taking the veneer off him," said Mr. McMillen. "He's not the neophyte everyone thinks he is."

One McMillen leaflet slams Mr. Gilchrest for breaking a promise to donate his $35,000 congressional raise to charity, branding the Eastern Shore Republican a "famous liar" along with the likes of former President Nixon and President Bush.

But Mr. Gilchrest says he gave thousands of dollars of his raise to charity.

And he noted that he was not a member of Congress "when my opponent worked to get this pay raise passed."

The Crofton Democrat has said that his opponent would receive a last-minute surge of support from GOP organizations.

But election finance reports have not proved his claim to be true.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee gave Mr. McMillen $12,500 for mailing services on Oct. 13, and another $5,400 two weeks earlier.

In all this year, Mr. McMillen has picked up $24,000 from the DCCC.

At the same time, the National Republican Congressional Committee, gave Mr. Gilchrest $150 for postage from Easton on Oct. 13.

All told, the NRCC and state Republicans have spent about $55,000 on Mr. Gilchrest this year, said state and national GOP spokesmen.

In mid-September, however, the NRCC paid $65,000 for mailings to support Mr. Gilchrest, along with state and local Republicans.

Mr. McMillen, meanwhile, received added support from the National Association of Realtors, which spent $49,000 in February to pay for Mr. McMillen's radio and TV ads. The Realtors' association offered $3,780 in support of the McMillen campaign, through a letter sent to members in the last two weeks.

Desiree Anderson, PAC director for the association, did not return phone calls.

Mr. Fitch explained that Mr. McMillen has championed causes vital to the industry, including tax breaks for first-time homebuyers.

Special-interest groups such as the Realtors have a donation limit of $5,000 to a candidate for each election. And this year they gave Mr. McMillen the maximum amount of $10,000.

But the additional association contributions to the McMillen camp are known as "independent expenditures," unlimited funds PACs can spend to either attack or support a candidate.

The Realtors' association is the most powerful practitioner of independent expenditures.

Two years ago, the Realtors spent $1 million to influence House and Senate races, spending more than $400,000 more than their next competitor -- Auto Dealers & Drivers for Free Trade.

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