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.
Mr. Gies calls homosexuality "absolutely immoral" and finds fault with a society that tolerates behavior not condoned by his Catholic principles. "The morals of the country over a period of time have gradually degenerated to the point now," he said, "where people have gotten so broad-minded that they're literally flat-headed."
He opposes any health care plan that would pay for abortions -- Mr. Gilchrest has mixed feelings on this point -- and said he would find a way to avoid complying with a law that required it.
"I feel that I'd either have to go out of business or break the law," he said, "because I can't see anybody making me do something that I think is morally wrong and pay for it."
While he said he supports the concept of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Mr. Gies said public money should not be used to make it easier for handicapped people to use all public facilities.
"So what if one person out of 500 going into a building is inconvenienced," he said, adding that people should use "Christian charity" by helping the handicapped get past building obstacles.
Fascinated by technology on a grand scale, Mr. Gies said he favors high-speed magnetic-levitation trains over more highway construction.
Considering this year's national problems with flooding in the Southeast and forest fires in the West, he suggested -- apparently seriously -- that a pipeline to pump water long distances could be a solution for such disasters.
Gies supporters said they believe their candidate's leanings will appeal to voters disappointed in Mr. Gilchrest, who is conservative on fiscal issues but whose positions on abortion, gun control and the environment often place him in the Democratic camp.
Gilchrest campaigners concede that he alienated some of his early supporters when he voted for President Clinton's crime bill, for an effort to give Washington, D.C., statehood and against a voucher plan that would have used taxes to help send children to private schools.
All along, they said, they expected the most political heat from conservatives. But the Gies-Gilchrest contest came as somewhat of a surprise.
"We thought Wayne would get the most serious trouble from the right wing," said Edward J. H. Weissman, a Washington College political science professor who advises the Gilchrest campaign. "Who could have known it would be someone from the right wing of the Democrats?"