Democratic Rep. Roy P. Dyson and Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest began preparing today for a 1st District re-match following hard-fought primary victories.
Dyson barely beat Gilchrest in 1988 and last night the five-term incumbent suggested another tough race was ahead.
"At this point [it's] a very interesting race," said Dyson, who predicted victory but declined to speculate by what margin. "I'm not a betting man."
While Dyson was scheduled to greet workers at Dresser Industries early today in Salisbury, Gilchrest was planning to meet with Republican national congressional campaign officials to map strategy.
Gilchrest made no predictions but said he felt "more confident" than he did two years ago. He vowed that he would not run "a negative campaign." Instead, he promised something different to 1st District voters. "We will run our campaign with humility, commitment, compassion, faith and love," the high school history teacher explained. He saw the issues as education, the environment, drugs, and the savings and loan crisis.
Dyson and his campaign manager, Christopher Robinson, were ebullient over his primary win over Del. Barbara O. Kreamer, D-Harford, and two Harford County lawyers, Morris C. Durham and Michael Hickey Jr.
Robinson said he had expected a closer race in the wake of the disclosure that Dyson had received a conscientious objector draft exemption during the Vietnam War.
When Dyson was asked if he had dodged a bullet, he said: "A bullet? A couple maybe."
In her concession speech last night at Edgewood, Kreamer made no apologies for her hard-edged campaign. "I think we did something that was worthwhile," she said. Then in an apparent reference to Dyson but without naming him, she still complained that "too many have gotten tangled in the web of special-interest politics and lost sight of the concern and interest of people at home."
Kreamer said she planned to meet with Dyson as soon as there was "a lot at stake" in the district, the state and the Democratic party.
Dyson said the primary outcome showed that neither his draft status nor another controversial issue, abortion, were as important as some people said.
And, referring to attacks on him by Kreamer and some of the Republicans, Dyson said, "I think people saw that for what it was -- politics."
Dyson didn't show up at his campaign headquarters in Salisbury until nearly 11 p.m., when most of the returns were in. He arrived with a smile and seemed more relaxed than he'd been recently as he hugged joyful supporters and patiently answered reporters' questions.
He said he wanted to "extend the hand of friendship" to his defeated Democratic opponents and unify the party for the fall campaign.
"To my Republican opponent, who obviously is no stranger to us, I also extend a hand of friendship," Dyson declared. "I would hope when the campaign ends that we will be friends. I also hope that what we will do is have a very clean, positive campaign."
Dyson said he wanted to have debates with Gilchrest and suggested that federal regulation of non-tidal wetlands, a sore point for district property owners, would be a central issue.
Asked how he was going to beat Gilchrest, who leads Dyson in a pre-primary poll, the congressman said, "I'm going to work a lot harder." Gilchrest, for his part, said he would not only have "a campaign of great dignity" but "stand on the shoulders of my volunteer supporters."
While Dyson won by taking 54 percent of the vote to 32 percent for Kreamer, with Durham and Hickey trailing with 8 and 6 percent respectively, Gilchrest needed far less to win. He won 28 percent of the GOP primary vote to lead the pack of seven other Republican hopefuls. Five were bunched closely together fighting for second place. Barry Sullivan narrowly took it with 14 percent of the vote, followed by Del. Richard F. Colburn, Mark R. Frazer and Raymond J. Briscuso, all in the 12 percent range. Close behind was Luis Luna, 11 percent, and trailing were Perry Weed, 7 percent, and Charles Grace, 3 percent.
The race really began the day after Dyson won re-election in 1988 by fewer than 1,500 votes over Gilchrest, a political newcomer. With Dyson's vulnerability exposed, Democrats and Republicans were eager to run against him in 1990.
The four Democrats and eight Republicans combined spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. It may have paid off for Dyson, who raised the most this year: $196,000 to Kreamer's $136,000 as of Aug. 22, when finance reports were last filed.
But the Republican big spenders wasted their money. Gilchrest's low-budget effort raised $48,000 as of Aug. 22, far less than Briscuso and Luna, who had collected $168,000 and $92,000, respectively.
If money wasn't the decisive factor, neither was the abortion issue. Briscuso and Kreamer made advocacy of abortion rights cornerstones of their campaigns and put Gilchrest and Dyson on the defensive. Dyson, who favors restrictions on abortion, ended his campaign by accusing Kreamer of lying about his position; Gilchrest's opponents accused him of switching from an anti-abortion to an abortion-rights stand.
Sullivan made opposition to abortion the centerpiece of his campaign but wound up a distant second.
The most telling issue appeared to be Dyson himself. Dyson came under heavy fire for the problems that nearly defeated him in 1988 and for a new one that emerged late in the campaign -- his draft status.
Dyson received a conscientious objector draft exemption in 1971, which he did not reveal until newspapers recently began inquiring about his draft status. The belated disclosure hurt him among veterans and others who felt the 41-year-old congressman, a strong supporter of military action, had been a hypocrite.
The disclosure also focused attention again on 1988 election issues that Dyson had tried to put behind him by emphasizing his service to constituents, opposition to federal wetlands regulations and membership on the armed services and agriculture committees.
Dyson's top aide committed suicide in May 1988 just after a newspaper article raised questions about personnel practices in Dyson's office. Dyson also came under intense scrutiny that year for accepting honoraria and contributions from defense contractors whose interests he championed.
In a poll conducted for The Sun last week, 40 percent of voter surveyed viewed him unfavorably. Sixteen percent of those polled cited Dyson's character when asked what issue influenced them; 10 percent cited his draft status.
The campaign turned ugly and personal in the closing two weeks. Kreamer tried to exploit the draft-status disclosure with commercials that asked: "Which Roy Dyson do you believe: the hawkish congressman who takes big defense PAC money or the conscientious objector who skipped Vietnam?"
Dyson fought back with attacks on Kreamer's voting attendance record in the legislature and in a radio advertisement in the closing days that said she was "panic stricken" and resorting to a "strident and negative campaign."