- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest feels like he is back in the Marines, shining his belt buckle to meet muster from an officer.

Only this time Mr. Gilchrest, a nine-term incumbent facing two serious challengers in the Republican primary next month, is trying to polish his conservative credentials in a hotly contested Republican primary.

“I used to be on Parris Island, shining my belt buckle. Now I’m shining my political credentials,” said Mr. Gilchrest, a moderate Republican under attack for not being conservative enough by two Republican state senators challenging him.

With just a few weeks to go before the Feb. 12 primary, Mr. Gilchrest, Sen. Andrew P. Harris and Sen. E.J. Pipkin are trying to portray themselves as the true Republicans in the race.

Mr. Gilchrest planned a fundraiser last night headlined by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, two Republican favorites. He is touring his rural district talking up his experience in Congress, which dates to before the Republican Revolution days, when Mr. Gingrich wielded the gavel.

Mr. Harris and Mr. Pipkin are doing their best to claim the conservative mantle, too. With just two days completed in the state legislative session, both have proposed measures sure to curry favor with Republican primary voters. Mr. Harris, Baltimore and Harford Republican, proposed a state holiday to commemorate former President Ronald Reagan, and both Mr. Harris and Mr. Pipkin have proposed measures banning illegal aliens from receiving in-state tuition.

“There’s no question that in this race, all three candidates are trying to carry the conservative mantle,” said Mr. Harris, who has criticized Mr. Gilchrest as too liberal since declaring his candidacy last summer.

Mr. Pipkin, Eastern Maryland Republican, is taking a similar tack on the campaign trail, talking up his opposition to tax increases passed by the Democrat-led legislature last year. Mr. Pipkin also tries to trump Mr. Gilchrest on defense. Mr. Gilchrest was one of the three Republicans to vote to withdraw troops from Iraq, and he has been a critic of President Bush’s management of the Iraq war.

“We need to support our troops. They need to operate without a timetable telling our enemies when we’re going to be gone,” Mr. Pipkin said. “Virtually everywhere we go, that comes up.”

Maryland Republicans are having a hard time picking favorites in the race. Mr. Harris is backed by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the most conservative activists of the party. Mr. Ehrlich’s lieutenant governor, Mr. Steele, is campaigning for Mr. Gilchrest along with Mr. Gingrich. Mr. Pipkin has the nod of Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican.

The rural district is usually a sleepy political region that dutifully re-elects Republicans to statewide and national office.

“The 1st Congressional District is overwhelmingly right of center,” Mr. Harris said. “It will elect a conservative Republican every time.”

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