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Two Maryland congressmen lose primaries

A longtime GOP congressman and a Democratic House member became the first incumbents to fall this primary season.
Maryland Congress
Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest R-Md., seen at an immigration forum in Salisbury, Md., Tuesday, had his conservative credentials successfully challenged by his primary opponent.Matthew S. Gunby / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A longtime GOP congressman who initially voted for the Iraq war but later accused the Bush administration of bungling it was defeated by a state senator, joining a Democratic House member in becoming the first incumbents to fall this primary season.

Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest was seeking his 10th term representing Maryland's 1st Congressional District, which includes the state's Eastern Shore and parts of the Baltimore suburbs. He lost Tuesday to state Sen. Andy Harris in a five-way race.

Democrat Donna Edwards upset eight-term incumbent Rep. Albert Wynn in Maryland's 4th Congressional District, which includes many of Washington's eastern and northern suburbs, in a field of six candidates. The race was a rematch of the 2006 primary election.

The last time two incumbent congressman lost in a Maryland primary was 1970, said John Willis, a professor of government and politics at the University of Baltimore and former Maryland secretary of state.

Only one other state, Illinois, has included congressional races with its presidential primary elections so far.

Poltics of Iraq
Gilchrest was one of two Republicans to vote last year for a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, which became a cornerstone of Harris' challenge. Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in the 1st District, but Gilchrest's moderate views have enabled the GOP to hold the seat for nearly two decades.

He got about 33 percent of the vote, compared with Harris' 42 percent.

Harris said he benefitted from a nine-month, $1.2 million campaign that highlighted his conservative credentials.

"The Republican party is a right-of-center party, and they decided that the right-of-center candidate would be their nominee," he said.

Gilchrest said the race was the toughest of his career. He did not concede, saying he would wait until provisional and absentee ballots have been counted. Absentee ballots were to be counted on Thursday and provisionals on Feb. 19.

"We ran a good campaign. We held on to our integrity," Gilchrest said.

During the campaign, Republican candidates picked on one another in television ads, radio spots and mailers that focused on the economy, illegal immigration and Iraq. Immigration appeared to eclipse the war as a key issue in the final weeks, with state Sen. E.J. Pipkin sending out ads showing Gilchrest and Harris wearing sombreros.

Harris' Democratic opponent in the November general election opponent will be prosecutor Frank Kratovil, who won a four-way race with support from Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Rematch to the challenger
In the 4th District, Edwards, a lawyer and liberal activist who lost to Wynn by 3 percentage points two years ago, seized on voter dissatisfaction with Wynn's votes in Congress on Iraq and the housing crisis.

She received about 60 percent of the vote, while Wynn got about 35 percent.

"Today, the voters went to the polls looking for change and new leadership that from now on will put the public interest first," Edwards said in a statement.

She attacked Wynn for initially supporting the war, though he has since called for the withdrawal of troops.

Edwards also criticized Wynn's vote in 2005 for a measure tightening bankruptcy rules, which she says has made it harder for struggling homeowners facing foreclosures. Wynn has said Edwards exaggerated the effect of the bankruptcy change.

Republican nominee Peter James, a technology consultant, has little chance of defeating Edwards in the heavily Democratic district. He defeated three other GOP candidates.

Voters braved snow, rain, ice and sleet to cast their ballots. The foul weather caused the state elections board to extend voting for 90 minutes to allow people stuck in evening rush-hour traffic to get to the polls.