- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

Top staffers to Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, the Republican incumbent defeated in the recent primaries, are backing the Democrat in November, complicating the party’s chances of keeping the congressional seat in the largely Democratic district on the Eastern Shore.

Gilchrest Chief of Staff Tony Caligiuri and other staffers were among about 50 Republicans at a fundraiser Tuesday in Chestertown, Md., for Frank T. Kratovil, the Democratic candidate and a Queen Anne’s prosecutor.

“Anyone who makes the argument to [Mr. Gilchrest] that you need to get behind the party doesn’t understand what Wayne Gilchrest has been trying to do for the last 18 years,” Mr. Caligiuri said. “Party doesn’t factor into his decision.”

Mr. Gilchrest, a nine-term incumbent, had appealed to Democrats throughout the First Congressional District, especially with his stance on the Iraq war and interest in environmental issues. He was defeated by state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore Republican and among the most conservative in the General Assembly.

“I’m deeply saddened that Wayne didn’t make it through the primary,” longtime Gilchrest aide Karen Willis told the Salisbury Daily Times. “I’ve found lots of people who feel the same way. I’m just trying to get behind Mr. Kratovil to continue to have First District representation from a thinking person.”

Mr. Gilchrest lost support among conservative Republicans last year after he voted for the Democrat-backed Iraq pullout plan and a measure to grant the District voting rights.

Mr. Kratovil thinks he’ll pick up support from moderate Republican and Democratic voters who would have voted for Mr. Gilchrest.

“Even in the primary, I ran to the center, because I am in the center,” he said. Mr. Kratovil also said he would welcome Mr. Gilchrest’s endorsement.

“I would love to have his support,” he said.

Mr. Gilchrest could not be reached for comment on whether he will endorse Mr. Kratovil.

Democrats voters outnumber Republican voters in the district 187,619 to 185,464, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

The district includes many rural and blue-collar Democrats. A more moderate-to-conservative group bolstered Mr. Gilchrest through his many general elections but was not enough to carry him through the tough primary.

In the November primary, Mr. Gilchrest won in every Eastern Shore county in the district except Queen Anne’s, which Mr. Harris won. However, Mr. Harris strongly defeated Mr. Gilchrest on the Western Shore.

“I think any time you have a change in characters like that, the implication is you may lose voters,” Cambridge Mayor Cleveland Rippons, a Democrat, said yesterday. “Wayne has been around for years. I don’t think [Andy] is going to get as many crossover votes.”

One advantage for Mr. Harris is that the district voted by large margins for President Bush and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., both Republicans.

The Harris campaign said it is confident that it will keep the seat for Republicans.

Mr. Harris “is running against a … liberal who is a protege of Governor Martin O’Malley,” said Harris campaign manager Christopher Meekins.

Leading Republicans on Capitol Hill have given their support to Mr. Harris since he won the primary.

Mr. Bush, who had endorsed Mr. Gilchrest, called Mr. Harris the day after his victory to congratulate him. U.S. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, who had also endorsed Mr. Gilchrest in the primary, threw his support behind Mr. Harris the same week.

Mr. Gilchrest has avoided phone calls from Mr. Harris since the primary loss, according to the Harris campaign.

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