WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Albert Wynn vowed to change after he narrowly beat Donna Edwards in 2006, but the voters’ opinion of the transformation won’t be registered until the next primary election results are counted.
Wynn eked out a win over Edwards by 2,725 votes out of 82,165 cast in the last primary election. Voters will have the same choice on Feb. 12 in the 4th Congressional District, which spans parts of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
The narrow victory surprised Wynn, who had not had a credible primary challenger since 1992, when nine candidates ran for office and he received 28 percent of votes.
Following his electoral scare, Wynn pledged to hold more town hall meetings, and listen to constituents. And over the past year, the evidence shows he’s done that: He has held several campaign-related events at local schools and supporters’ homes, along with some town hall meetings.
Wynn has been campaigning in his district, as well as occasionally showing up in Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s 8th District. In June, Wynn greeted commuters at the Bethesda Metro station, which does not fall under his jurisdiction, but is a major job center.
“We have a full campaign ongoing. We’re very active in both Montgomery County and Prince George’s,” said Lori Sherwood, Wynn’s campaign manager.
“We’re very visible and we’re working hard to be sure we are participating in events and attending events that are important to the community,” she said.
Last time, Edwards painted Wynn as an Iraq-war supporter and out of touch with constituents.
The first criticism doesn’t carry the same weight in this campaign, especially since he has changed his position, but Edwards insists that her competitor is still not listening to his district’s voters, where Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one.
“On some really key issues, Congressman Wynn’s voting record has been so awful and has been so far afield of where the Democratic Party has been aligned, and (the people have) decided that Democrats who have voted like the congressman do not belong in Congress,” she said.
But Wynn’s voting record shows he sided with the majority of his Democratic colleagues 98 percent of the time during this term of Congress.
Wynn was a former target of the CBC Monitor, a watchdog of the Congressional Black Caucus, but his voting shift prompted the group to give him an 80 percent approval rating this year, far better than his 30 percent rating in 2005.
Constituents soon will have a chance to hear the candidates talk the talk. Wynn, Edwards, George Mitchell and George McDermott, who also ran in 2006, will debate in Silver Spring on Nov. 8.
The Mid-Atlantic Hispanic Chamber of Commerce held a previous debate in September, but only Edwards and Mitchell, a first-time candidate, showed.
“It was unfortunate scheduling,” Sherwood said. “The congressman could not attend because it was a workday and he had to be on Capitol Hill. He’s very eager to participate in the debates.”
Mitchell, a Prince George’s real estate agent, said the low turnout in the 2006 primary race leaves room for him to run. Of registered District 4 voters, 23 percent voted — a typical number for a primary race.
“We need new representation,” Mitchell said. “All it takes is someone who is aggressive enough to expose what we do not have.”
The February primary falls just 18 months after the 2006 primary, because it is a presidential election year.
The condensed primary leaves less time for fundraising and stumping. Wynn has strong endorsements from local politicians and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and raised $592,602 according to the Federal Election Commission.
Edwards has raised $214,365 and has the support of self-styled progressive groups. Both candidates said they plan to raise about $1 million for the primary.
Nearly half of Wynn’s money comes from political action committees, while Edwards has received donations nationwide from political activists like billionaire Pat Stryker, singer/actress Barbra Streisand and author Stephen King’s wife, Tabitha, also an author.
A shortened primary can often help an incumbent and hurt other candidates, but Frances Lee, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park said Edwards will not feel an impact.
“Donna Edwards is already pretty well known as a result of a better-than-expected campaign against Al Wynn last time,” she said. “I think that voters are familiar with her, so I don’t think that it would hurt her.”