Democrat challenging Gilchrest from the right CAMPAIGN 1994 -- CONGRESS 1ST DISTRICT

October 30, 1994|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Eastern Shore Bureau of The Sun

EASTON -- Midway through the campaign, candidates for the House of Representatives seat from Maryland's 1st District broke their silence about each other.

First came the name-calling. "He seems to be a nice man," said Republican incumbent Wayne T. Gilchrest of his Democratic opponent, Ralph T. Gies.

Then the characterizations. "I really don't know anything about [Mr. Gilchrest] except that he was a teacher and that he was a house painter, and there's nothing wrong with that," Mr. Gies replied.

It's been that way since.

In contrast to fiery 1990 and 1992 1st District campaigns, when candidates threw everything -- including mothers and wives -- into the political fray, this year's race has generated as much flash as a wet firecracker.

Wayne Boyle, a 49-year-old Kent Island resident, joined the race as a write-in candidate shortly after the September primary, but his campaign has been low key.

Aside from being a quiet campaign, it's also likely to wind up as one of the nation's cheapest congressional races.

Mr. Gilchrest refuses to accept money from political action committees and out-of-state supporters this year. If his spending reaches $100,000, it still will be less than half the amount used on any of the two-term congressman's previous races. "He doesn't want to take people's money unless he needs it," said Tony Caligiuri, campaign manager for Mr. Gilchrest. "If there's no need, why take it?"

For Mr. Gies, a relative newcomer to politics, campaign funding of about $10,000 has come mostly from his savings. The owner of a small tax and accounting firm in Anne Arundel County, Mr. Gies is not a wealthy man.

"I don't have a deep pocket," he said in a recent interview at his Gambrills office. "In fact, I reached in the other day and found a hole."

Although they are far apart on some issues -- Mr. Gilchrest, 48, favors abortion rights and limited gun control, and Mr. Gies, 69, does not -- the candidates come across as a couple of nice guys in rumpled suits.

No side is polling voters to see who's in the lead, although those familiar with both camps agree Mr. Gilchrest should win handily. Few forums have occurred with both men participating. And Mr. Gilchrest's campaign schedule allowed him to slip away one recent weekend to attend his 30th high school reunion in Rahway, N.J.

The loudest noise of the campaign so far was made by neither man, but by the state's Democratic Party leadership in September when it snubbed Mr. Gies because of his conservative views. Active in the anti-abortion movement, Mr. Gies ran as a write-in candidate in 1990 because both parties' nominees -- Mr. Gilchrest and Democrat Tom McMillen -- supported abortion rights.

"I didn't like Gilchrest, and I didn't like McMillen," Mr. Gies explained. "I liked me."

The write-in attempt failed, and Mr. Gies remained a political cipher outside his church and Gambrills community. But his name was on this year's primary ballot and, he said, he beat two other Democrats because he was the only candidate from Anne Arundel County.

As a result of the 1990 redrawing of congressional districts, part of Anne Arundel and a small section of Baltimore City were combined for the first time with the Eastern Shore to make up a new 1st District.

Still opposed to abortion, Mr. Gies said he is trying to avoid being labeled as a single-issue candidate. He said that he would remove the rose -- a symbol of the anti-abortion movement -- from his campaign letterhead and that he likes to talk about using technology to solve problems.

Nevertheless, his conservative views alienated party chiefs, who xTC said Mr. Gies would have to run his campaign without their help.

Sympathy for Mr. Gies poured in from around the district. Shore Democratic central committees endorsed him, and three Anne Arundel County General Assembly candidates, including his nephew, David G. Boschert, rallied around him.

"It brought out a lot of response, not just from Democrats but from Republicans and independents," said campaign director Mark Conroy who works as a volunteer.

"If they said they'd give us $10,000 or try to throw us out of the party again, we'd say, 'throw us out,' " said Mark McIver, who runs the Gies campaign on the Shore.

Mr. Gies chided party leaders for not showing loyalty to one of their candidates. But when asked if he supported other Democrats running for state offices, Mr. Gies offered no apologies when he said he could not in every case.

"I have to go against people who are pro-abortion," he said. "I really do. That's the main issue."

It is Mr. Gies' tendency, against the political advice of those around him, to bring up the abortion question as well as his hard-line views on other social issues that Gilchrest campaigners believe will turn off most mainstream voters.

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