Taking the offensive in the 1st Congressional District race, Tom McMillen last night tried to portray his opponent, Wayne Gilchrest, as a conservative willing to cut Medicare insurance and student loan funds, and to vote against strong civil rights legislation.
While Mr. Gilchrest spent most of the time at two candidate forums talking about what he believes is wrong with the country and what he would do to fix it, Mr. McMillen tried to contrast his actions with those of Mr. Gilchrest. For example, he pointed to his support of the original civil rights bill which contained stronger language than the version finally adopted.
Mr. Gilchrest was on the defensive, reaffirming his support of education and civil rights legislation.
The two incumbents are facing off in the 1st District because of redistricting. Last night they made back-to-back appearances, at Annapolis church forum sponsored by the Black Political Forum (BPF) and then at Anne Arundel Community College in a debate sponsored by several community organizations.
Mr. Gilchrest appeared almost bashful as he ambled up to the microphone at the Mount Moriah A.M.E. Church. Mr. McMillen was brisk and forceful.
Each said he believes in abortion rights, supports a balanced-budget amendment, believes the president should have line-item veto power and conceded that more taxes may be necessary. Each favors cuts in the capital gains tax.
Each tiptoed around questions concerning South Africa and Haitian immigration. Each said he is trying to reach out to the black community and each said he has several staff members who are black.
Each candidate emphasized the need to reduce the deficit, devise a more cost-effective approach to health care and revive the economy.
The candidates differed somewhat in the solutions they propose.
Mr. McMillen favors reducing armed forces stationed abroad and putting soldiers to work at home. He said government can help the economy by putting people to work in public service projects and he said a national health-care plan is needed.
Mr. Gilchrest said he is skeptical of the government's ability to create jobs. "We need to stimulate the private sector," he said.
He also said he doesn't believe that a national health-care system is the right approach at this time.
Sam Gilmer, an Annapolis alderman who questioned the candidates about their views on refugees, said he was less than pleased with either candidate.
"Both tried to escape the Haitian question."
But Mr. Gilmer, a Democrat, said he still would vote for Mr. McMillen.
Matthew Thomas, who challenged Mr. Gilchrest to explain what he would do to move the GOP toward a better working relationship with African-Americans, said he believes that both candidates were pandering to the voters.
"I still have some soul-searching to do," Mr. Thomas said.