WASHINGTON – Takoma Park resident Lekha Subbaya says John Kimble’s race-baiting, mud-slinging campaign for the 4th District seat in Congress is “yucky.”
She also admits that she and her friends cannot stop talking about it.
“It’s weird, but we do talk about his negative tactics,” she said. “We may not have too many nice things to say about it, but it certainly does crop up in our conversation at times.”
Kimble, a white Republican running a district that is overwhelmingly black and Democratic, has drawn attention to his underfunded campaign by recruiting Rep. Al Wynn’s estranged wife to be his campaign chairwoman. Jessie Wynn has campaigned for Kimble on the theme that Wynn, who is black, “does not respect black women. He left me for a white woman.”
That message is splashed over a huge red banner that Kimble and Mrs. Wynn display along roadsides in the district, along with a “Kimble For Congress” placard. Subbaya said the two have become a familiar sight around Takoma Park.
“I guess this campaign, though yucky, is interesting in a way. Elections here are pretty dull, otherwise,” she said.
Political experts agree with Subbaya.
James Gimpel, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park, called the 4th District one of the “most boring districts in the state when it comes to elections.”
“The district is just skewed to one population so much that, in a way, it amounts to ‘vote cheating,'” he said, referring to the fact that blacks make up 58 percent of the district.
The district, which hugs the eastern edge of the nation’s capital, comprises parts of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties that lie largely inside the Capital Beltway. In the past two elections — both of which were contests between Wynn and Kimble — Wynn won 85 percent of the vote in 1996 and 86 percent in 1998.
After his 1998 loss, Kimble attributed his defeat to the large number of “uneducated black voters” in the district. But today, he sees black voters as his ticket to victory.
“The African-American population in the district are disgraced and angry with Wynn for leaving his black wife for a white woman,” said Kimble. “They have indicated that to me. They feel let down and want Wynn ousted.”
For his part, Wynn has stopped responding to Kimble’s accusations.
“I am only concentrating on the people of my district when I run these elections,” Wynn said, before acknowledging that Kimble’s charges are “annoying” and “frustrating.”
“I am running for the confidence and support of the people,” Wynn said. “I’ve really worked for the people and I really think I deserve their support.”
Wynn has a record as a liberal lawmaker who is a strong advocate for small businesses. He sponsored the Small Business Opportunity Preservation Act, which took effect last year, that is aimed at helping those businesses get government contracts.
Wynn also touts his record defending federal workers. The 4th District represents over 72,000 federal employees, the most of any congressional district in the country.
His voting record has earned a perfect score from the Americans for Democratic Action, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as well the League of Conservation Voters.
By contrast, Wynn got a zero from Christian Coalition and less than 10 from the National Tax-Limitation Committee and the American Conservative Union.
If re-elected, Wynn said his primary goal would be to improve the quality of education in the district and the state.
“I am going to fight for more federal funding to help the local and state government to improve the quality of education and educational institutions,” said Wynn. “The present Republican Congress has rejected our attempt to get this during the present session. But I will really work on this.”
Wynn said the first step toward enhancing the education system is hiring more teachers and modernizing the schools.
“We’ve got some trained teachers, but many of the low-performing schools have a teacher-crisis,” he said. “We need more trained teachers to wipe out this problem.”
He also promised to push for more after-school recreation centers for students in the district.
“Children must have a place to go after school for recreation, academics, music or for other arts,” he said. “We don’t have such centers right now, but we should. It’s very, very important and I shall make sure that we do have such centers for the children.”
Ann Beegle, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Democratic Party, said Wynn has “done a great job for the people of the 4th District.”
“He’s been a great Democrat and has all our support,” she said.
He also has most of the financial campaign support in the race. Wynn reported to the Federal Election Commission that he had more than $414,000 on hand for his campaign as of Sept. 30. Kimble, by contrast, has raised less than the $5,000 that requires a candidate to file with the FEC.
Kimble argued that Wynn, who is seeking his fifth term, has had time to come through on his promises, but has failed to do so.
“Wynn has been there for eight years but has done absolutely nothing for the schools in the district,” said Kimble. “The children in many of the schools here lack discipline and the principals just suck out the blood from the teachers. Wynn shouldn’t even talk about education.”
Kimble’s campaign pledges include a plan to outlaw houses of prostitution within a half-mile of a school and to let teachers know when a student convicted of a “heinous” crime has been allowed back in the classroom, among other proposals.
But Kimble said that his main focus, if elected, would be on improving healthcare.
“I’ll make sure that all health insurance companies provide affordable health care to all Americans,” he said. “Not one individual will exist without health insurance if they elect me as their representative.
He said he would finance the plan by levying a tax on non-residents living in this country.
Kimble said he chose to attack Wynn, rather than focus on issues in his campaign, because “Wynn’s moral faults were too much to ignore.”
State Republicans strongly disagree.
“I think he (Wynn) should be attacked as a legislator who has failed. I would just see him defeated on that,” said Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.
While Kimble may think that the personal attacks he has mounted are important, said Ellington, the Republican Party has tried to distance itself from its 4th District nominee’s campaign.
“We are diverting our resources into other districts where we think we have a chance at winning,” Ellington said.
But Kimble — who has conceded in past races that he expected to lose — insists that he has a shot of winning this time, with or without support from his party.
“They just don’t care,” he said. “This is the third time that I am running as a Republican. And I promise that this will be the last time. If I lose this time, I’ll run as an independent candidate the next time.”