WASHINGTON – Rep. Albert Wynn is under attack.
As the campaign winds down, Republican John McKinnis and Green Party nominee Theresa Dudley routinely accuse the six-term Mitchellville Democrat of promoting casinos instead of issues that are more important to the 4th District.
“We need leaders with the right priorities who put children and education first,” McKinnis said. “Wynn puts casinos first.”
Dudley accuses Wynn of promoting casinos to please campaign contributors in the development industry.
But Wynn, who is expected to easily win re-election, dismisses what he calls baseless attacks dredged up by opponents because “they have no record.”
His own record includes winning funds for local projects and working for federal workers and small businesses — and only includes support for casinos as an alternative to proposals for slot machines, he said.
Wynn has vocally opposed a push by lawmakers in Annapolis to introduce slot machines in the state, which could include sites in the 4th District. He argues that lower-stakes gambling, like slots, would feed addiction among lower-income people in the community, while a casino would not have the same effect on the poor.
“I don’t think that Maryland needs to have any gaming, but if the state was going to have gaming, it should do it in a responsible way,” Wynn said.
Mark Croatti, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist, agreed with Wynn that Dudley and McKinnis are pushing a “complete distortion” of the incumbent’s position on casinos. But their attack “makes sense as a strategy for a candidate without a shot,” he said.
Recent polls have shown that the strongest opposition to slot machines is in the Washington suburbs, home to the 4th District, and Wynn’s opponents probably hope that casinos will elicit the same type of negative response.
But Larry Harris, a pollster with Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, does not think casinos — or any issue “short of a scandal” — will unseat Wynn. He says, without a trace of irony, that he would “bet my mortgage on Wynn.”
“That district hasn’t been competitive for decades,” Harris said.
The majority-black 4th District includes parts of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. Wynn won his last race with an overwhelming 78 percent of the vote in the district, where Democrats make up 69 percent of registered voters, compared to 15 percent for Republicans.
But McKinnis says he is not an average Republican. At community forums, he touts the fact that he grew up in a union household, and says he wants greater funding for the No Child Left Behind Act — a position that puts him at odds with his party’s leadership.
At a community forum in September, the Silver Spring business owner said he would be part of the Republican majority if elected and would be in a better position than Wynn to lobby for increased education and health care funding.
That brought a chuckle from Wynn recently.
“He’s running against his own party,” Wynn said during an interview in his Capitol Hill office. “Why does he think he will be able to buck (Republican Majority Leader) Tom Delay?”
Dudley agrees with Wynn at least on that point: The district cannot be represented by a Republican, she said.
“This is a very liberal area and the only reason he (Wynn) keeps getting re-elected is because people haven’t had a choice,” she said. “They are not going to vote for a Republican. But they could vote for a Green.”
Dudley, a fourth-grade teacher who made three failed bids for the Prince George’s County Council as a Democrat, has accused Wynn of meddling in local political races. She admits that her run against Wynn was prompted, in part, by his endorsement of one of her opponents in a council race.
“But although it started out that way, it wasn’t all about that after I started watching his votes and seeing what stances he took on issues,” Dudley said. “What really did it was when he voted for war in Iraq — and when he broke ranks with the Congressional Black Caucus to do it.”
Wynn has since said he regrets his vote to give the president the authority to go to war in Iraq.
“If I knew then what I know now, I would not have voted that way,” said Wynn, who was concerned at the time about the possibility that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical weapons.
McKinnis, unlike Dudley, supports the war in Iraq — but other than that their criticisms of Wynn echo each other.
Both have sought to portray Wynn as a captive of special interests. Recent reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show that Wynn had raised $630,660 by Sept. 30 and still had just over $400,000 on hand. McKinnis reported raising $77,693 and having about $20,000 on hand, while Dudley has not raised the $5,000 that would require her to file with the FEC.
The challengers point to a recent report by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics that said only 68 percent of Wynn’s campaign donors have fully disclosed their occupations and the names of their employers.
“His disclosure ranking shows that his office doesn’t pay much attention to detail,” said McKinnis’ campaign manager, Jeff Rosenbaum.
Dudley was more blunt: “He doesn’t want people to see his contributors because they will connect the dots and see why he supports the things that he supports.” Wynn backs casinos, she argued, because he is getting campaign money from “the developers who would profit from one.”
Neither Dudley nor McKinnis has held office, but they say the lack of political experience would not prevent them from being good legislators.
Dudley cites past leadership roles with community groups as reason to believe she is up for a job in Congress. McKinnis, who owns a small information technology firm, notes that the business and political worlds “are both about relationships.”
“I’ve built strong relationships with clients, and I could build the relationships that could get things done for the district,” he said.
But Wynn said prior government experience is important — and he has lots of it.
Wynn, a lawyer, was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1982 and then to the state Senate in 1986. He served two terms there before being elected in 1992 to Congress, where he currently serves on the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
“I’ve already developed relationships in Congress and I’m on one of the most powerful committees here,” Wynn said. “He (McKinnis) has no record. He hasn’t been active in the community. What has he done?”
In a three-way debate Thursday on WAMU, Wynn said his long tenure is one reason he has been able to win funding for a number of projects in the district.
“The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Route 29 improvements, the Blue Line extension . . . consolidation of the FDA — a $600 million federal project — the Silver Spring transit center,” Wynn said, ticking off the list. “I have gotten these projects funded because I can work with people on both sides of the aisle.”
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