Donna Edwards first successfully challenged the Prince George’s Democratic Party establishment when she ousted incumbent Al Wynn in 2008. This year, the two-term member of the House of Representatives is bucking the establishment yet again.
Among Maryland Democrats in Congress, only Edwards has taken an aggressive stance on what may be the hottest issue on the state’s ballot this fall: whether to allow expanded gambling and a casino in her neighborhood at National Harbor. The gaming industry has poured more than $65 million into the fight.
Asked at a community meeting about Question 7 — the highly contested ballot measure, which is backed by the Democratic establishment from the governor on down — Edwards did not hold back.
“I am against Question 7,” she said. Gaming is not the answer for a county that has struggled to overcome political corruption, low student achievement and a dearth of high-paying jobs, she said.
Next up was U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), also running for reelection. His views on gaming? “I am not going to say,” Cardin said.
Edwards is accustomed to being on the outside looking in, and most of the time, that has worked for her. But it has not sat well with some Democrats in Maryland who have grumbled that Edwards has alienated many of her colleagues and should do more to repair the relationships.
When the General Assembly completed its redistricting plan this year, legislators took away Edwards’s strong backing in eastern Montgomery County and gave her about 250,000 residents in Anne Arundel County, where the GOP can count on support. She also represents a large chunk of Prince George’s County, but her allies believe that the redrawn district was designed to weaken her.
Edwards, who is seeking her third full term, faces Faith Loudon, an Anne Arundel Republican, community activist and legislative aide in the General Assembly. Edwards is expected to easily win reelection and has been meeting regularly with her new constituents to make sure they know her and she knows them.
“I am really straightforward about everything. Frankly, that is something people have come to expect of me, even if they don’t necessarily share my viewpoint,” Edwards said in an interview.
The state’s focus for Prince George’s should be on expanding science and technology and the businesses they can spawn, said Edwards, who has worked for nonprofits and was a NASA contractor.
She fought alongside Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Prince George’s) to try to undo the redistricting plan. It is now on the November ballot, partly because of the efforts of Republicans who are unhappy with the map, which critics from both parties say makes Maryland the most gerrymandered state in the nation.
Edwards’s close friend since childhood, Valerie Ervin, a Democratic Montgomery County Council member, said the fight bruised Edwards but alerted her to challenges within the party.
“Donna is willing to put herself out there on the issues that matter, not just to her and the people she represents. That is very threatening to the status quo,” Ervin said.
But Loudon says Edwards is not in touch with the 4th Congressional District. The Republican said she is hearing discontent as she visits Prince George’s churches and community groups.
Harry R. Jackson Jr., pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, which says it has about 3,000 members, has said he is backing Loudon because of her stands against abortion and same-sex marriage.
The Anne Arundel County Circuit Court clerk, Bob Duckworth, said in an endorsement that Loudon “truly represents the Republican principles of limited government, fiscal integrity, free enterprise and, most importantly, family values and respect for life.”
In Loudon’s view, “this is a race that will redefine American values.” She believes that government has done too much to take religion out of daily life and that deep budget cuts are needed to jump-start the economy.
Loudon has raised about $71,000 in the race, most of it from small donations. Edwards has raised about $750,000.
Labor unions, women’s groups and other liberal organizations have rallied behind Edwards. Meanwhile, the American Conservative Union gave her a lifetime rating of 4 out of 100, based on her voting record.
Edwards serves on the House ethics committee; the Science, Space and Technology Committee; and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. She spoke at the Democratic National Convention, has been tapped by the Obama campaign to be a surrogate speaker and has been recognized as a leader on health care and women’s issues.
Nicky Goren, president of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, said Edwards’s advocacy on issues important to low-income women is part of her appeal.
Edwards’s experience as a single mother raising a young son while attending law school “is the story of so many women in our community, struggling to make ends meet,” Goren said.
U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), dean of Washington’s female lawmakers, said Edwards “is one of the real rising stars in our party.”
Mikulski cited her efforts to improve Metro safety, expand health care and repair roads and bridges.
“She has shown real leadership,” Mikulski said, “and I am very proud of her.”