- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2007

House Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest’s votes to stop funding the war in Iraq has challengers saying the long-term congressman may have run his course.

Two Democrats — Eastern Shore lawyers Frank M. Kratovil Jr. and Christopher R. Robinson — announced they will run for Mr. Gilchrest’s seat, and state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, is expected to announce that he is running.

“I think everyone will tell you Wayne is a nice guy,” Mr. Kratovil said. “I think I’m a nice guy, too. It’s easy to be a nice guy when you’re not pushing or fighting for things.”

Mr. Gilchrest recently voted for the Democrat-backed pullout plan in Iraq and against President Bush’s subsequent veto, joining only one other House Republican in bucking the party leadership. He also supported the D.C. voting rights bill.

“Multiple challengers is a state of existence for us,” Mr. Gilchrest’s chief of staff, Tony Caligiuri, said yesterday. “He’s been battle-tested from every perspective.”

Mr. Gilchrest has routinely beat his Democratic challengers by more than 30 points and has fended off Republican primary challengers by more than 20 points since he joined Congress in 1991.

But this run could be different for Mr. Gilchrest, who has a long history of voting against the Republican party line.

Republican activists skewered him for his Iraq war vote at a series of town hall-style meetings he held earlier this year. And many wore stickers and T-shirts at the Maryland Republican Party convention last weekend, encouraging Mr. Harris to “Run Andy Run.”

“When I talk to other Republicans, they’re really not enamored with [Mr. Gilchrest’s] stances on the issues,” said Michael Swartz, a member of the Wicomico Republican Central Committee and author of the Eastern Shore politics blog Monoblogue. “He’s ripe for the picking if he’s not popular.”

Mr. Gilchrest’s status also has state Democrats looking to recapture the seat he won from Southern Maryland Democrat Roy P. Dyson, now a state senator, in 1990.

“I just think Mr. Gilchrest is no longer voting the interest of the people of the First District,” said Mr. Robinson, who was Mr. Dyson’s chief of staff when he was in Congress.

Mr. Robinson, who filed for office more than two weeks ago, supports the death penalty, is pro-choice and advocates the compromise immigration reform package being pushed in the U.S. Senate.

Mr. Robinson lost the 2006 Democratic primary in the district.

Mr. Gilchrest won when the district covered mostly the Eastern Shore. However, state Democratic lawmakers restructured the district in 2002 to include metropolitan Baltimore, which cut into Mr. Gilchrest’s Eastern Shore base. There are 185,733 registered Democrats in the district, compared to 183,180 Republicans, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

State Democrats are also supporting Mr. Kratovil, a conservative Eastern Shore prosecutor.

“For the first time, [Mr. Gilchrest’s] unpopularity combined with the strength of his potential opponents makes defeat a real possibility,” Mr. Kratovil wrote in an e-mail to supporters, obtained by The Washington Times. “In short, the timing for a challenge could not be better.”

Mr. Kratovil expects the race to cost at least $1.5 million, and touts his support from such state Democrats as Gov. Martin O’Malley, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.

“Frank is a dedicated and committed public servant and he would make a great congressman,” said Rick Abbruzzese, an O’Malley spokesman.

Mr. Kratovil organized the Eastern Shore for Mr. O’Malley and was co-chairman of Mr. O’Malley’s public safety transition team after his November 2006 win.

Mr. Kratovil also said he expects the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose chairman is Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Montgomery Democrat, to help him reach his $1.5 million fundraising goal.

“The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is very excited about his possible candidacy,” said group spokeswoman Kyra Jennings.

She also said Mr. Kratovil would be the “right candidate” to win the seat from Republican control for the first time in 18 years.

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