Gilchrest Just as Content In Defeat

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008

From the beginning, there was no grand scheme, no intricate political calculation, involved. When Wayne Gilchrest decided one day in 1988 to run for Congress, he simply took a lunch break from his job painting houses, got in his old Ford pickup and drove to the state election office in Annapolis.

He didn't even know to take the $100 filing fee and was able to register as a Republican candidate only because the clerk offered to take an IOU. It was just something that popped into his mind, like anything else he had done -- slaughtering chickens at a poultry plant, teaching high school, moving to the Idaho wilderness to count moose. He lost in 1988, but not by that much.

And when he won two years later, to some it was as though Mr. Smith really had gone to Washington -- albeit in the form of a balding, rumpled philosopher.

Gilchrest shunned the Washington party circuit, preferring most nights to drive two hours back to his family and farm on the Eastern Shore. When he stayed in the city, he slept in his office rather than "waste money" on an apartment. He rarely cast votes that followed any party or ideological lines, and he became known as the quintessential political maverick, winning the odd distinction last year of being the Republican most likely to vote against his own party.

But this week, the maverick attitude that won him nine terms in office led to his defeat.

Hammered by four challengers as too moderate, he lost the GOP primary by 11 percentage points to a state senator -- Andy P. Harris -- who spent more than $1 million burnishing his conservative credentials and attacking Gilchrest's.

Yesterday, even after most results had come in and long after Harris had declared victory, Gilchrest refused to call his opponent to concede. Yes, he had lost, he said when reached at home. Even with absentee and provisional ballots uncounted, Harris's lead was probably insurmountable.

"But I just don't see the need to make a phone call," he said, noting Harris's string of attack ads leading up to Tuesday's primary. "I really don't want to congratulate unseemly behavior."

As for losing a job he has held for 18 years, he said, "The integrity of my eternal soul is infinitely more valuable than a pathetic political career."

It was a career that began by chance.

Gilchrest was written off as a joke in 1988 when he challenged four-term Democratic incumbent Roy P. Dyson. Gilchrest was outspent almost 6 to 1, but he came within 1,540 votes of victory after a series of scandals ravaged Dyson's campaign.

Two years later, Gilchrest ran again and won.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company