Gathering here yesterday to launch their nominee's fall campaign, 1st District Republicans and GOP officials indicated they will stress the differences between the two men, highlighting Mr. Dyson's ethical troubles and Mr. Gilchrest's background as a combat veteran and teacher.
Mr. Gilchrest, who won the GOP nomination last week with 29 percent of the vote over seven other candidates, offers "the ideal contrast" to the five-term incumbent, said William B. Lacy, a political consultant hired by the National Republican Congressional Committee to oversee the Gilchrest campaign.
The committee views the Dyson race as one of its "best opportunities" to beat a Democratic incumbent, Mr. Lacy said.
Mr. Dyson, 41, captured the Democratic nomination by handily defeating his chief primary rival, Delegate Barbara O. Kreamer of Harford County, with 54 percent of the vote.
Mr. Gilchrest, dressed in a gray suit with a pen tucked behind his ear, smiled sheepishly as received a standing ovation from supporters after his victory.
The GOP nominee said the campaign would not only be about "competent government" but also "integrity" and "morality," a clear reference to Mr. Dyson's spate of troubles that have ranged from the suicide of his top aide Thomas Pappas in 1988, a $3,000 fine by the Federal Election Commission this year stemming from Mr. Pappas' receipt of campaign money, and recent disclosures that the hawkish congressman was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.
"We're looking at integrity and, yes, we're looking at morality," said Mr. Gilchrest,to the more than 30 Republicans assembled at a Kent Island restaurant.
"Integrity is more than escaping indictment, and our opponent has said numerous times he has escaped indictment" said Mr. Gilchrest. "Morality is more than just following the legal code."
Mr. Gilchrest, who lost to Mr. Dyson in 1988 by about 1,500 votes, said later he planned on emphasising his Vietnam combat record, his teaching experience and his "strong family bond," during the campaign.
"I think the big part of any campaign is the image the people get of the candidate," he said.
He reiterated that he does not plan on highlighting Mr. Dyson's CO status during the seven-week campaign. But he said, "I think it's an issue that needs to be addressed."
"The CO status, I think, shows an inherent flaw in Roy Dyson's character," said Mr. Gilchrest," because he's fudged on the whole thing."
Mr. Dyson received conscientious objector status in 1971 -- following six student deferments -- from the St. Mary's draft board.
He said he told the board he was opposed to the Vietnam War. The Military Selective Service Act, however, states that to receive CO status, one must, by "religious training and belief," oppose all war.
The GOP nominee denied that his comments about Mr. Dyson violated his pledge not to engage in negative campaigning. "I won't cross the line," he said, although he acknowledged his comments "come close to the line."
Mr. Gilchrest also said that the campaign would center around "political leadership" and development on non-tidal wetlands -- an explosive issue, particularly on the Lower Shore. Mr. Dyson is pushing for a relaxation of some development restrictions and Mr. Gilchrest emphasizes preservation.
Mr. Lacy said later that he would meet once again with Mr. Gilchrest next week to map a more definitive campaign strategy. Building grass-roots support and fund raising also will be on the agenda, he said.
Although Maryland Republican Party Chairman Joyce Lyons Terhes estimated the campaign would spend between $700,000 and $1 million, Mr. Lacy said the figures are "probably a little high." He said it was premature to determine how much would be spent, but said the bulk of the money would likely come from donations within the 1st District, coupled with individual contributions from outside the district and from political action committees.
While Mr. Dyson has promised to wage a positive campaign based on the issues, Mr. Lacy predicted the Southern Maryland Democrat "will run a very negative campaign" and try to paint Mr. Gilchrest as a liberal in this conservative district.
Still, even some of Mr. Gilchrest's Republican challengers said they would not support him, saying he is too liberal on abortion and other issues. Besides favoring strong controls on development of non-tidal wetlands, Mr. Gilchrest favors abortion rights and further gun controls and has said some tax increases may be necessary.
Last week, two GOP candidates, Barry Sullivan and Richard Colburn, who ran second and third respectively in Tuesday's primary, said they would not support Mr. Gilchrest because of his stands on these issues. Yesterday, however, Mr. Colburn said he planned to meet with Mr. Gilchrest this week to discuss their differences and was "optimistic" he could support the GOP nominee.
The remaining five GOP candidates have said they will actively support the Gilchrest campaign. Four were in attendance yesterday: Raymond Briscuso Jr., Charles Grace, Luis Luna and Perry Weed. The other candidate, Mark Frazer, said he had a previous commitment.
Republican officials yesterday were enthusiastic about the chances of defeating Mr. Dyson in November.
"I can guarantee the 1st District is going to have a Republican congressman in November," said Mrs. Terhes.
Still, the Republicans emphasized the need to unify and get out the vote and acknowledged it would be a tough campaign.
"Don't assume the race is won," said Richard Taylor, Maryland's GOP National Committeeman. "If the SOB gets in again, we may never be able to get him out."