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Gilchrest in the Cross Hairs

Incumbent Faces Double Trouble in GOP Primary

POCOMOKE CITY, Md. — Not a whole lot has changed at the WGOP-AM radio studio since the 1950s, when the afternoon broadcast included live chicken auctions so that farmers on the Delmarva Peninsula could get a good idea of the daily price of poultry.

Located on the outskirts of Pocomoke City, a 5,000-person town just about as far southeast as one can go on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the aging studio is decorated with old records and pictures of some of the hillbilly bands that used to perform live from the station for the “Delmarva Jamboree.” These days, two FM stations are also crammed into the studio’s tiny accommodations, and all visitors, regardless of sex, use the ladies’ bathroom because the men’s room has been turned into a storage closet.

One highlight in WGOP’s current lineup is the weekly “Pocomoke City Report” with Mayor Michael McDermott.

Last week, McDermott’s guest for his half-hour segment was Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), the nine-term Congressman who is facing what national and local pundits are calling his toughest primary battle since being elected in 1990.

McDermott’s affection for Gilchrest was unmistakable.

“Everyone here has kind of adopted the Congressman,” he said.

But McDermott is also playing the balanced reporter. Two weeks earlier, McDermott welcomed state Sen. Andrew Harris (R) to his show. Harris is Gilchrest’s top challenger in a primary race that, though just more than two months away, was still growing as of last week.

‘Wayne Is a Good Man, But ...’

Gilchrest is a leading GOP moderate in the House who is known as an avid outdoorsman and a champion of environmental conservation. He’s a Congressman who openly says he’d rather be out canoeing on one of the Eastern Shore’s many small rivers than attending a campaign event. But Gilchrest’s independent voting record opens him up to challenges from the right in this strongly Republican territory.

Harris, a staunch conservative who has been endorsed by the powerful Club for Growth, may be Gilchrest’s toughest challenger to date, even though the dynamics of this race continue to be in flux.

On the same day that Gilchrest taped his interview with McDermott, another well-known state Senator, E.J. Pipkin, announced he too was entering the race, bringing the number of candidates in the Republican primary to six.

The standard line of reasoning in this race has been that the more challengers there are, the better Gilchrest’s chances will be because multiple candidates will serve to further dilute the anti-Gilchrest vote.

But as McDermott explained before he taped his interview with the Congressman on Thursday, Gilchrest has another key advantage in this race and it’s one that, intentionally or not, the soft-spoken former public school teacher has cultivated during his Congressional career.

McDermott, who previously served as police chief of the nearby town of Snow Hill, went on to describe an incident in early September 2002 that he said has always stayed with him, even when he’s disagreed with Gilchrest politically — including when the Congressman voted this year for a Democratic resolution that opposed sending more troops to Iraq.

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