Maryland's newly configured 1st District, long considered safe for Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, the Eastern Shore's folksy six-term veteran, has become a proving ground for two Washington-based political groups that are squaring off for the first time in the Republican primary.
In a fight that both sides agree will be a referendum on the former civics teacher's independent voting record, Gilchrest is being challenged by 32-year-old Baltimore County lawyer David Fischer, who is angling to outflank the self-described moderate Gilchrest from the right with organizational support and $100,000 from the conservative Club for Growth, a free-market interest group that has drawn fire from party regulars for targeting an incumbent.
Gilchrest's allies at the Republican Main Street Partnership, a coalition of moderate members of Congress and other GOP leaders, is planning television spots and a direct-mail campaign that they think will help squelch what they say are distortions of Gilchrest's record by Fischer and other conservatives.
Gilchrest, who accepts no campaign money from outside the district, says the effort is independent of his re-election bid.
"We just decided we were not going to sit back and let it happen," said Delaware Rep. Michael N. Castle, a close friend of Gilchrest's who heads the partnership.
"My problem with the Club for Growth is that they're an extremist group, absolute purists," Castle said.