By Christopher anderson
WASHINGTON – In the parking lot of small strip mall that serves as campaign headquarters for Rep. Albert Wynn, volunteers in matching “Wynn for Congress” T-shirts laugh and chat around a couple of grills, as hamburgers and hotdogs sizzle on a warm Saturday afternoon.
No one seems to mind that the man of the hour is working rather than enjoying some quality time with the troops.
Huddled in the back room of a cramped Capitol Heights campaign office, Wynn talks strategy with a few political proteges, among them candidates for county office who were helped through the Democratic primary by Wynn’s endorsement.
Wynn eventually emerges. He delivers a quick sermon-style speech to rally the troops before leading a caravan to the afternoon’s finale — a Democratic unity rally at Prince George’s Community College with gubernatorial hopeful Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, county executive nominee Jack Johnson and several State House candidates.
Wynn can afford to give of his time these days. Despite redistricting, voter registration in his 4th District still runs more than 4 to 1 Democratic and the incumbent Democrat is facing a Republican who has lost to Wynn in each of the last three elections by increasingly large margins.
“I can’t even tell you who he (Wynn) is running against,” said Glenn Ivey, the Democratic nominee for Prince George’s County state’s attorney, whose primary bid was backed by Wynn.
When told that the Republican nominee is John Kimble, Ivey says only, “Oh, that guy.”
That guy, Kimble, concedes that the demographics and voter registration numbers are not in his favor: In addition to the heavy Democratic voter registration, the district is almost 60 percent black. Wynn is black, Kimble is white.
But Kimble — who collected just 15 percent of the vote against Wynn in their 2000 race — is not ready to concede his fourth race against Wynn, just yet.
“It all depends on how well I can get out there,” said Kimble, who is running on a platform of increasing Social Security benefits, making healthcare more affordable and improving public safety.
“In District 4 down by the D.C. border, it looks like a ghetto. District 4 isn’t really getting its fair share,” he said. “When I tell people that, they understand and they agree.
“The number of Asians help me because they think a lot like the white folks,” he said, hopefully.
But Kimble is not taking any chances. Even though redistricting made the district more white and more Republican, Kimble filed a federal lawsuit charging that the district had been unconstitutionally “gerrymandered to cater to one race . . . to guarantee that a minority represent the congressional district,” according to his suit.
“Such gerrymandering disenfranchises Caucasians and people of Montgomery County, which leads to rampant crime, lowering of the socioeconomic level, and in turn affects the education of the youth,” Kimble wrote.
It’s not the first time Kimble has sued. He tried unsuccessfully to overturn the old boundaries of the district, which was created in 1990 as a minority district.
It’s also not the first unusual campaign tactic by Kimble, 42, a self- described animal behaviorist who has offered to pose nude in Playgirl (the offer was not accepted) and who hired Wynn’s ex-wife as his campaign manager.
“This year is so strange that nothing would surprise me. With this sniper, everything is just nutty,” said Kimble of his campaign.
A Kimble victory would be a big surprise, observers say. Besides registration and racial challenges, Kimble has not raised the minimum $5,000 required for filing with the Federal Election Commission.
By comparison, Wynn has already spent $546,912.07 during this election cycle and still has $267,252.19 in cash on hand.
Still, Wynn says he is not taking anything for granted, and is campaigning hard this fall. He said he has spent a lot of time getting to know voters in the northern Montgomery County areas who are new to the district.
“Congressman Wynn has spent a lot of time in the new 4th District in Montgomery County, meeting people and listening to people’s concerns, so he has really cultivated a following,” said Karen Britto, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Central Committee.
But Laytonsville resident Dana Rawlings said the upcounty area that was moved out of the 8th District and into the 4th District is “a pretty conservative area.” He said the redistricting is bad, because it “dilutes the county’s strength in Congress,” and left the county “ripped four ways.”
It also has left him without what he considers a viable GOP candidate to vote for. “It’s really no contest,” Rawlings said of the latest Wynn-Kimble match-up.
Keith Silliman, a Montgomery Village resident who considers himself part of the “conservative base” of upcounty voters, said he has met Wynn several times during the campaign. While he thinks Wynn has done a good job representing his old district, he said he has no plans to vote for Wynn.
But political analysts agree that a Kimble win would make for a “nutty” year. While his voting record is fairly liberal, he has also built a solid reputation for his work on behalf of federal workers and small businesses.
Larry Harris of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research said that the changes in the 4th District make it more like central Maryland, where Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich “is doing his best.” But the changes are not enough to endanger Wynn, Harris said.
“On the whole, (Wynn) has got nothing to worry about,” Harris said
While Wynn insists he is focused on reaching out to the parts of upper Montgomery County that were added to his district this year, others, including Kimble, say he has his sights set on his home base of Prince George’s County, where he is trying to position himself as political kingmaker in Prince George’s County.
Ivey, the state’s attorney nominee, said he thinks Wynn’s backing helped him in his primary victory over Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Spencer. It is only natural that the five-term incumbent would reach out to other Democratic candidates, he said.
“There’s no doubt that he’s a well known and respected figure in the county,” Ivey said of Wynn. “He did serve sort of a useful role in helping some candidates get re-elected.
“I think that he was involved in a lot of campaigns, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem,” Ivey said. “I think that the key thing is that the people that are in the offices starting with the next term are going to be able to work together. That doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to agree all the time.”
Spencer, who lost the primary to Ivey, said he believes Wynn’s political clout in the county is “overrated.” But he gives the congressman’s efforts grudging respect.
“He is trying to create an image of himself as a power broker,” Spencer said. “You have to give him some credit that his slate and his politicking did have an influence on a lot of races locally, but I think there’s going to be some fallout to that as well.”
Spencer said losing candidates found it distressing that “the congressman was involved in, I think, a heretofore unprecedented way in lower electoral seats.”
“My sense of it from talking to people was that wasn’t much appreciated,” he said.
But he’s also philosophical about the politicking by the slate.
“That’s politics,” Spencer said. “No permanent friends, no permanent enemies.”
Back at his campaign headquarters, Wynn is pressing ahead — whether for the party or for himself or both depends on who you talk to. He’s been campaigning since 8:30 a.m., but gives a rousing speech after meeting behind closed doors.
“I call you all `the regulars,'” he shouts to the volunteers. “You all believe. I’m preaching to the choir.
“But this is about you reaching out to your neighbors who are not faithful, who are not believers . . . to tell them, `Look! This election is important. You have got to vote, not wax your car, not pick your cousin up from the airport, not go shopping . . . You have got to vote!'”
With that, he and his volunteers are off to drum up votes for the Townsend campaign and other Democratic hopefuls.