The Nation Analyzes Edwards’s Loss – and Misses the Story

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.

Racial Demographics and Voting

The racial statistics alone show its bedrock problems. Nowhere does the article mention that African Americans formed the largest share of Democratic primary voters — 48% compared to just 42% of whites according to the Washington Post. So this clearly was not just a case of the white majority shutting out the black minority, since there was no white majority.

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 Machine

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.