- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Two years ago, Donna Edwards did what few challengers of Rep. Albert R. Wynn have been able to do — give the eight-term Maryland Democratic congressman a close race.

After losing by just three percentage points in 2006 in the 4th Congressional District that covers parts of Montgomery and Prince George’s County, Mrs. Edwards is back, hoping to achieve the rare feat of unseating an incumbent in a primary election when Maryland Democrats vote today. If Mr. Wynn loses, he would be the first incumbent to fall this primary season, though only one other state, Illinois, has included congressional races with their presidential primary elections so far.

The district includes a large bloc of black voters in Prince George’s County. Reliably Democratic, their voting trends usually are a strong indication of the sentiment of black voters overall, said Ronald Walters, a political scientist at the University of Maryland.

“It’s the bellwether of the black population around the nation,” he said.

Both candidates are black.

Two issues of national importance are major factors in the race — the economy and the ongoing war in Iraq.

Mrs. Edwards has criticized Mr. Wynn’s vote in 2005 for a measure tightening bankruptcy rules, which she says has made it harder for struggling homeowners facing foreclosures. Prince George’s has the highest rate of foreclosures in Maryland, a problem that is especially pronounced among black homeowners.

And continuing a major theme of her 2006 challenge, Mrs. Edwards has pressured Mr. Wynn on his initial support for the war in Iraq.

Mr. Wynn has since spoken out against the war and has appeared at foreclosure-prevention events, including one with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He says that Mrs. Edwards has exaggerated the effect of the bankruptcy bill on foreclosures, and that he has worked to help homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages.

Both attended a packed rally yesterday for Sen. Barack Obama at the University of Maryland, sitting just a few rows apart near the stage where Mr. Obama urged voters to make a change in Washington. Mr. Wynn said he supported Mr. Obama long before Mrs. Edwards, while Mrs. Edwards said she embodied the presidential candidate’s message.

“There is a tide of change sweeping the nation that really is going to crest in the 4th District,” Mrs. Edwards said.

Mr. Wynn said he has built considerable clout in Congress during his 16 years in office on issues such as health care and education, and accused Mrs. Edwards of offering little more than empty rhetoric. He acknowledged that the narrow 2006 vote exposed some unhappiness among voters, but said he has heard them.

“People were dissatisfied with some of the things I’ve done,” he said. “I said, ‘Look, I’ve done some things to change.’ ”

The race also has split groups that traditionally back Democrats. Mr. Wynn has the endorsement of unions tied to the AFL-CIO while the Service Employees International Union has poured money into televisions ads for Mrs. Edwards. The pro-choice groups NARAL and Planned Parenthood’s political action committee have backed Mr. Wynn, while Mrs. Edwards has the support of Emily’s list, a network that supports the campaigns of pro-choice female Democratic candidates.

In 2006, Mrs. Wynn did well with the largely black voters in Prince George’s County while Mrs. Edwards had stronger support from white voters in Montgomery County.

Mr. Wynn is deeply entrenched — he was a former lawmaker in the Maryland legislature, and had developed a reputation as a king maker in Prince George’s by immersing himself in local politics. Before 2006, he won most of his races by wide margins.

But Mrs. Edwards ran an upstart campaign against Mr. Wynn in 2006, accusing him of being swayed by big business and too cozy with Republicans in Congress.

Mrs. Edwards has edged Mr. Wynn in fundraising, according to recent reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. She raised $441,000 in the latest four-month reporting period and had $204,000 on hand compared with the $441,000 raised and $146,500 cash on hand for Mr. Wynn.

Much of Mr. Wynn’s money has come from political action committees, which the Edwards campaign says proves their point that he is beholden to special interest groups. But while most of Mrs. Edwards’ money was raised from individuals, about 85 percent came from people living outside the 4th District.

Mr. Wynn has filed a complaint with the FEC accusing Mrs. Edwards of illegal collaboration between her campaign and organizations backing her in the race. He cites $75,000 worth of donations from organizations receiving funding from the Arca Foundation, the grant-making organization that Mrs. Edwards leads. Mrs. Edwards denies the charges, and any FEC action would not occur until after today’s primary.

Mr. Wynn also has highlighted three tax liens placed against Mrs. Edwards’ Fort Washington home for failure to pay taxes. The liens have since been released, but Mr. Wynn says they are relevant to her ability to hold office.

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