In the Washington Post, Arelis Hernández reports that Rep. Donna Edwards is receiving encouragement from progressive Prince George’s activists to run for County Executive. However, the possible entry of Sen. C. Anthony Muse is giving her pause:
Longtime state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, who is close to Edwards and has his own deep base of political support, has also been considering a run — one factor that could dissuade Edwards from getting into the race.
Like Edwards, Muse is touting his outsider credentials:
Although Muse has been in Annapolis since 2007, he is known for his independence from the Democratic leadership there and would also likely try to claim the outsider label.
“Muse is the only one who has built his career on standing up to the establishment,” said Wayne Clarke, a veteran political operative who is close to the senator.
Except that Muse has stood up to the Democratic establishment by opposing it from the right, not the left. In contrast to State’s Attorney Alsobrooks, a leading candidate for County Executive, Muse was a leader in the effort to fight bail reform this year:
Alsobrooks was the only state’s attorney in Maryland to publicly oppose a bill sponsored by Muse to revive the state’s cash-bail program. The legislation was denounced by progressives who had worked for years to eliminate bail for poor defendants. It passed in the Senate but died in the House.
Muse also opposed marriage equality. According to political science estimates, Muse has been the seventh most conservative Democrat in the Maryland Senate. Unlike other more conservative Democrats, Muse does not represent a swing district. Other Prince George’s Democrats are among the most liberal in the Senate.
Muse’s financial past also raises eyebrows. He led two Prince George’s churches into bankruptcy. Muse’s own financial situation looks much happier. At the time of the second bankruptcy, he owned four properties–his own home, a vacation home, a rental property in Silver Spring, and a vacant lot in Fort Washington.
Todd Eberly sees an Edwards bid as a good way to wreck revenge on the Democratic establishment, which doesn’t support her:
[t]he former congresswoman might consider it “wonderful revenge” against party leaders who embraced then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen instead of her during the Senate primary.
Rep. Donna Edwards’s Strong and Gracious Concession
“Black women are the bedrock of the party, and yet Edwards’s loss is a sign that they still don’t have a place at the table” was the subhead of the The Nation‘s article delving into Donna Edwards’s loss. Yet, rather than providing good analysis, the article desperately works to make facts fit its narrative.
What happened? The article mentions but elides over that Chris Van Hollen’s share of the black vote, 37%, was about twice as high as the 19% of the white vote won by Edwards. Van Hollen had a 53 point (72-19) margin among whites while Edwards had just a 20 point margin (57-37) among blacks.
Chris Van Hollen won convincingly in large part because he worked for and won a sizeable minority of African-American votes. White candidates fighting hard for and winning over African-American votes is not exactly something to lament.
Van Hollen also won women (53-39) by virtually the same margin as men (54-37), so the gender explanation carries even less weight.
The other major trope of the article beyond racial dynamics is that Maryland’s political “machine” was stacked against the Edwards campaign, and this is emblematic of the general opposition of it to the elevation of black women.
Meanwhile, Baltimore Democrats nominated African-American State Sen. Catherine Pugh for the mayor’s office. I would call this a breakthrough except its not. Future Mayor Pugh will succeed a black woman who succeeded another black woman.
One can hardly call this a victory by Pugh against the establishment. Pugh’s colleagues in the State Senate lined up to write her $1000 checks for her mayoral bid. By the way, the State’s Attorney and two-thirds of Baltimore City’s State Senators are also black women. Marylanders do not find this either weird or novel.
The Nation deplores that Edwards didn’t win most Maryland establishment support, black or white. They’re correct there. Heavy-hitter Rep. Elijah Cummings sat this one out and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker endorsed her opponent. So did former Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.
Here are Baker and Leggett explaining why they chose to endorse Van Hollen over Edwards – a question left unasked by the The Nation except to ascribe it to the mysterious machine and a generic unwillingness to support black women:
Perhaps we could avoid rushing to call all of these people machine politicians, sell outs (or worse), just as I would hope that one would avoid doing the same for the prominent white endorsers of Donna Edwards, such as former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and Sen. Karen Montgomery.
Insiders and Outsiders
The insider-outsider label is an interesting one and a matter of perspective. Edwards has served for four terms in Congress representing suburban DC. She received millions and millions of dollars of support from large donors via EMILY’s List.
The Nation leaves unmentioned that Donna Edwards originally won her first unquestionably outsider campaign because of support from white progressives. In both of her first two elections for Congress – the one where she nearly beat centrist, establishment Rep. Al Wynn and the one where she did – Edwards did massively better in the white than the black portion of her district. So much for the invincible machine or hostility of white progressives.
Virtually all of the white Democratic establishment also lined up behind soon-to-be Rep. Anthony Brown’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid. Brown defeated sitting Attorney General Doug Gansler and progressive Del. Heather Mizeur, who The Nation accuses of fomenting racial slurs for stating that Van Hollen’s office provides far superior constituency service to Edwards’s.
Donna Edwards rightly pointed out the obvious desirability for more diversity in the Senate. Frankly, I’d be surprised if Maryland does not elect an African American to statewide office soon (not counting the Lt. Gov with no disrespect meant to the current or previous incumbents who were elected on tickets).
But the narrative that Donna Edwards lost simply because Maryland whites or political establishment just couldn’t cope is too facile. The Nation grudgingly concedes Van Hollen is “nearly as progressive” albeit “not quite” as Edwards. The attempt to turn tiny differences into an ideological canyon failed.
Moreover, like so many this year, Edwards tried to turn her isolation from other politicians into a virtue and Van Hollen’s connections into a vice. Except that Van Hollen argued convincingly that progress only gets made by working with others, using his legislative record and firm stand for liberal values to back it up.
Anyone less talented or respected than Chris Van Hollen probably would have lost to Donna Edwards, who is engaging and formidable on the stump and had strong financial backing. I don’t blame Donna Edwards and her supporters for feeling the loss. It didn’t happen this time.
But, despite the Nation‘s near despondency, all is far from politically lost for progressive African-American women in Maryland even if Donna Edwards didn’t make it this time. I have no doubt that her supporters – and many of Van Hollen’s – will use that energy to win the next one.
Both Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards support rolling back the tidal wave of independent expenditures unleashed by the Supreme Court’s “disastrous Citizens United decision,” as Edwards put it. Now, Van Hollen challenged Edwards to agree with him to practice what they preach and pledge to reject spending by outside groups.
But despite stating that “Marylanders deserve a Senator who will lead with bold solutions in the fight for campaign finance reform,” Edwards quickly rejected Van Hollen’s proposal–one pioneered by Elizabeth Warren in her race in Massachusetts.
So why is Edwards saying one thing and doing another? Van Hollen is far outpacing Edwards in “hard money” donations that fall under the legal limits for direct contributions to campaigns under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.
Edwards hope that “soft money” expenditures by outside groups –the same type of spending denounced on her website–in support of her campaign will help her close the gap. In other words, she is unwilling to campaign under the rules she claims to support.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker’s endorsement of Rep. Chris Van Hollen over Rep. Donna Edwards for U.S. Senate shows the tough road ahead for Edwards as the primary contest progresses. Not all endorsements matter. This one does.
While Van Hollen has the united support of the Montgomery County Executive and County Council, Edwards just lost the most prominent local official in her home base. Van Hollen has easily consolidated political support in his home base. In contrast, Edwards has now been served notice that she will have to fight hard to get Prince George’s to swing behind her.
Edwards will try and counter as the authentic progressive candidate running against a corrupt establishment as when she challenged successfully Al Wynn. Except that she’s now a Member of Congress and part of the establishment so people want to see effectiveness as well as an ability to speak truth to power.
Moreover, neither Van Hollen nor Baker are Wynn. Both have strong reputations of wanting to clean up politics. Van Hollen, for example, has been a champion of campaign finance reform. The insufficiently liberal narrative won’t work on Van Hollen either and may just end up reinforcing that Edwards is less electable.
If Elijah Cummings enters the race, this can’t hurt him either, as it makes it easier for him to reach out to Prince George’s. In short, Cummings looks to have an easier time making inroads into Edwards’s base than vice-versa.
Some current and former CBC members and aides, none of whom were willing to speak on the record, described Edwards as ambitious and aloof, saying she’s rubbed many in the caucus the wrong way. Others noted her public stances in opposition to other Maryland Democrats—an outlier in an otherwise collegial delegation.
One former staffer said that she essentially dropped out of the CBC for six months after a conflict with a colleague:
“I don’t think the CBC’s been a real priority for Donna. I don’t think she has particularly great relationships inside of the caucus,” said a former staffer for a CBC member. “I don’t think she’s going to win any popularity contests inside the CBC.”
In one particularly explosive episode, Edwards walked out of a CBC meeting last year after a dispute with Rep. Cedric Richmond. “He told her to get out, and she didn’t come back for six months,” said another former aide with CBC ties. “She didn’t come back until a month before she announced her candidacy for Senate. It struck a very disingenuous tone.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings could be the major beneficiary of Edwards’ problems with other members of the CBC:
Some CBC members were open in their desire to see Cummings enter the race. “I can only speak to the positive nature of the desire to get Elijah Cummings to run,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. “There is a lot of interest in his candidacy from CBC members. … I would be stunned if the majority of the members aren’t supporting him.”
That preference could say as much about Edwards’ standing within the CBC as it does about Cummings’.
Even if Rep. Donna Edwards is the only African-American candidate, many CBC members might still sit this one out. Or even worse for her, they might support Rep. Chris Van Hollen:
“Donna Edwards has always been an outsider to the caucus,” said the former staffer with CBC ties. “The CBC overwhelmingly doesn’t think that Donna Edwards has managed her relationships well or even developed one. … I have heard members say that they will go and campaign for Van Hollen before they will support Donna Edwards.”
I thought the Donna Edwards announcement video was great. She comes across as strongly progressive and completely in touch with real people. It was polished but didn’t have the “look, it’s a campaign commercial” feel. Using video instead of email also allowed Edwards to introduce herself to many new people.
But then there is silhouette of Maryland at the end that includes the Virginia portion of the Delmarva peninsula. Not a great way to introduce yourself to the Shore or, more generally, the State she wants to represent.
And what will really tee Edwards off is that I am sure she had nothing personally to do with it even though she is still responsible for it. Even more irritating will be that I suspect few would notice unless some blogger some pointed it out and blew it up so you could see it when he should be doing his real job:
UPDATE: She has fixed the logo on her campaign web page but the video with Accomack and Northampton lives on. Apparently, I am not the only one who noticed, as Sen. President Mike Miller mentioned it on the Senate floor. Will he begin recognizing Sen. Mathias as the gentleman from Accomack?
As Sen. Barbara Mikulski announces her retirement, people aspiring to win the seat are already eying not just it but each other. Here is a first look at one potential candidate who could be a top contender: Donna Edwards
The Fourth District representative brings a lot to her candidacy. With firm backing from national and local progressives (read: left-wing Democrats), she unseated Rep. Al Wynn in 2008. Del. David Moon sent out an email yesterday from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee calling for her to run. (Clarification: David was forwarding the email so people could see it and has not endorsed any candidate.)
Her potential to attract both progressive and African-American voters–very large groups in any statewide Democratic primary–makes her a formidable candidate. Thanks to redistricting, she has represented much of Prince George’s, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties.
These are very big advantages. Unlike Anthony Brown, she has real potential to fire up the left-wing Democratic party base. People who would like to see a woman take Barbara Mikulski’s seat may well also be inspired to support Edwards. In short, there is a real market for a candidate with Edwards’ political profile.
Edwards is not popular with the Democratic establishment but I don’t really see that as a barrier. A much bigger problem is whether she can raise the money needed for a Senate bid. She currently has just $30,000 in her congressional campaign account.
This is not an insurmountable barrier for a Member of Congress who will gain backing from various progressive groups, . But Edwards will have to put in serious phone time as she will face better fundraisers and is starting well behind many other potential candidates.
Problems with Jewish and Pro-Israel Voters?
She may also sail into choppy waters with Jewish and pro-Israel voters. Unhappiness with her record on Israel was one factor that helped propel forward a near challenge by Glenn Ivey in 2012. J Street has strongly supported Edwards but even they criticized her fundraiser with the pro-Palestinian New Policy PAC.
The fundraiser touted that she was one of only 25 representatives to vote against a House resolution “recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself” in the Gaza conflict. Actions like these will give pause to voters who have no affection for Benjamin Netanyahu and think Barack Obama is fine on Israel but also do not want someone they perceive as unsympathetic to Israel representing them.
Maryland has one of the highest proportion of Jewish voters in the nation. Jewish Americans tend to vote a high rates and will, like African Americans, figure disproportionately in any statewide Democratic primary. Democrats may also fear that this record could harm her in the general election.
Edwards has received support in the past from some prominent local Jewish leaders. But will it be enough for her to brush these problems aside?
Rep. Edwards has served in Congress for six years, and Democrats have been in the minority but all for the first two years of her service. As a result, an Edwards campaign will have to focus more on her positions than her accomplishments, as do her congressional campaign and official congressional websites.
Overlap with Other Candidates
Maryland does not hold runoffs so whoever wins the primary wins the nomination. The supply of candidates will influence the outcome as candidates who have more competitors who can eat into their vote will suffer. This is not a problem peculiar to Donna Edwards–all candidates will worry about this issue. But who would eat into her likely potential voters?
African-American candidates, especially from the Baltimore area like Rep. Elijah Cummings or Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, could make it hard for her to rack up votes there. Edwards and former Del. Heather Mizeur would compete for the same hard-left progressives, though I tend to believe Edwards would crowd Mizeur out. More seriously, Rep. Chris Van Hollen presents challenges for Edwards in Montgomery–a natural potential base for her support.