WASHINGTON – In the nearly two years since Donna Edwards almost sent Rep. Al Wynn back to private life, the congressman moved to the left on key issues and became more visible in his district.
Edwards, meanwhile, moved a bit right and challenged Wynn for traditional endorsements.
And just as their views and endorsements have converged, their face-off this time around in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District could end up even closer than the 3 percentage points that separated them in 2006.
Wynn’s endorsements by key women’s, labor and teachers’ groups show the strength of his record on traditionally liberal causes. Edwards, meanwhile, has energized her campaign with support from the national groups Emily’s List and MoveOn.org through her cultivated image as the true “progressive” candidate.
Winning the Democratic primary has been tantamount to claiming the office. The majority black 4th Congressional District, which contains parts of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, has been represented by a Democrat for more than 20 years.
“For a black Democrat representing that kind of district, he’s been out of sync with his constituents,” said Thomas Schaller, associate political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Edwards’ success last time around came from her criticisms that Wynn was not Democratic enough for his district, particularly in voting to authorize the Iraq war. Yet, Wynn’s congressional record includes voting with Democrats 93.9, 91.9 and 98 percent of the time in his past three congressional terms, a figure that beats the average Democratic congressman by 4 to 6 percent.
Wynn continues to pay the price for votes that are years old – the war authorization, a bill making it harder for families to file for bankruptcy, and providing $15 billion in tax relief through oil and gas subsidies.
Since the 2006 election, he’s supported a number of bills to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and sponsored a bill to repeal oil and gas subsidies.
Edwards described these efforts as “too little, too late,” while Wynn characterized her many pointed attacks on these issues as an attempt to “isolate a couple of votes.”
But Wynn’s record has allowed Edwards to make inroads into endorsements by womens’ groups. The National Organization for Women endorsed Edwards again and Emily’s List, the country’s largest political action committee, gave its support after her competitive race in 2006.
Emily’s List Communications Director Ramona Oliver described the thinking of members who helped fight for the “Violence Against Women Act of 1994,” as Edwards did when she was executive director for the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
“These women support her because she’s been a champion for women, because she’s been a champion on progressive issues, because they want more women like her in Congress,” said Oliver.
Yet, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL endorsed Wynn on the basis of his legislative record on abortion issues.
“Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s policy is to endorse 100 percent pro-choice incumbent candidates,” said Tait Sye, the organization’s spokesman. “Congressman Al Wynn is 100 percent pro-choice.”
About 10 labor groups lined up for Wynn in part due to his strong legislative record on issues that affect them. Al Wynn was rated by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations as voting with their agenda 93 percent of the time over the course of his career.
The legislative and political director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Matthew Biggs, described it as an “easy endorsement.” He cited Wynn’s opposition to free trade agreements and his support for collective bargaining and pay parity.
“Al Wynn has been there for us fighting for us,” said Biggs. “We stay loyal to our friends.”
Yet the Service Employees International Union 1199 (United Healthcare Workers East) and UCFW Local 400 chose Edwards, in part for her support of higher pay while she led the progressive Arca Foundation.
“She has a record in the community. She’s been a strong advocate of things matter to us like living wages,” said the SEIU 1199’s political director Ebs Burnough. “She’s sponsored legislation to end domestic violence.”
Wynn has the support of the National Education Association and the Maryland State Teachers Association. Critical to their endorsement, said Diana Saquella, manager of government relations for the Maryland State Teachers Association, was Wynn’s “more than satisfactory” questionnaire on teaching issues and his letter to the Congressional Black Caucus outlining the organization’s concerns with the “No Child Left Behind” legislation.
“It was a politically difficult time for him. He championed our position with members of the Black Caucus. People who disagreed with him within the caucus gave him a little heartburn but he still stood firm.”
Wynn has also stepped up his activity to bring money into the district.
“If you look at his record the last year and a half, he has hustled,” said Rick Powell, the political and legislative coordinator of the Metropolitan D.C. AFL-CIO, an organization that recommended Wynn for endorsement by the state organization.
“Look at the 4th Congressional District,” said Powell. “If three people met, Al Wynn would show up.”
Edwards is the favorite still of several progressive groups.
Some have connections to the Arca Foundation, the organization she joined in 2000, and took a leave of absence from in September 2007. That foundation distributes grants to those who fight for environmental, labor, and other progressive causes.
Environmental groups repeat as players on her bandwagon. MoveOn.org rewound its endorsement of Edwards, as well.
Spokeswoman Ilyse Hogue describes their rationale.
“She represents the vision of a strong Democratic Party willing to stand up for Democratic interests in the long term.”
There are four other Democrats in the primary — Michael Babula of Montgomery Village, Jason Jennings of Silver Spring, George McDermott of Forest Heights and George Mitchell of Temple Hills — but they are not as well known as Wynn or Edwards.
Running again in the Republican primary is Michael Moshe Starkman of Aspen Hill, who was drubbed by Wynn in the 2006 general election, 80 percent to 18 percent. He faces Robert Broadus of Clinton, Peter James of Germantown and Vincent Martorano of Jessup for the GOP nomination this time around.