Supporters Scuffle At Candidate Forum

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 18, 2006

The increasingly contentious race between U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn and his main Democratic primary challenger, Donna Edwards, led to a police call during a forum Wednesday night when a member of Wynn's team allegedly hit a volunteer for Edwards's campaign.

The fight outside the forum in Largo echoed the verbal pounding that Wynn endured from Edwards, a Prince George's County civic activist who has mounted a lively challenge to the seven-term incumbent congressman.

Several Edwards supporters said they were riding in a caravan to the forum at Prince George's Community College when they noticed a fight.

Pierre Cauthen, an Edwards volunteer, said two Wynn supporters were ripping up Edwards signs when someone from her campaign asked them to stop.

"Words were exchanged," Cauthen said. "And the Wynn supporter hit the Donna Edwards supporter. Then another Wynn supporter jumped on him, too."

Wynn said yesterday that his supporter was acting in self-defense.

"One of their people hit my people," Wynn said. "They got the worst of it."

Deidra Hall, a spokeswoman for the college, said a witness called about an altercation involving the "snatching of signs." Hall said one person was given a citation for disorderly conduct. No other details, including the names of the campaign workers, were available.

While the two sides exchanged blame outside, Wynn appeared to get the worst of it inside.

In their first time sharing a stage, Edwards attacked Wynn on his votes supporting the war in Iraq, the repeal of the estate tax and changes in bankruptcy law.

Edwards said the Democratic congressman has voted in "lockstep" with the Republicans, making him out of sync with the 4th Congressional District, which stretches across parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

She hit him hard on his vote to send troops to Iraq, a stance that Wynn has since described as a mistake. "He says, 'Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have voted for it,' " Edwards said. "Well, 'sorry' is just too late."

Wynn, who appeared unprepared for her criticism, said Edwards clearly did not know what he had delivered for the district.

"There's a difference between rhetoric and results," he said at the forum.

Yesterday, Wynn described Edwards, an attorney and executive director of the District-based Arca Foundation, as a "professional critic from the sidelines."

"She's never had to cast a vote," Wynn said. "No one knows who she is or what she's done. . . . She is critical of my votes. She says I shouldn't make mistakes, but she's never had to cast a vote."

Wynn, who has secured landslide victories in recent campaigns, said he is campaigning on his record and what he has done for his constituents.

"I've done the job fair, procurement fair for small businesses, the college fair," Wynn said, rattling off the list of events he's sponsored. "I got $250,000 for diabetes screening, $250,000 for fire personnel, $250,000 for prisoner reentry. $150,000 for the Mission of Love."

"We feel really good about the campaign," he said. "The response on the ground has been tremendous. We're confident, but not cocky. We take Miss Edwards seriously."

Edwards, who entered the race this spring, has raised $200,000 in just a few months. Her Web site includes the likes of Danny Glover and Gloria Steinem offering support. She's also received numerous endorsements, including from the Sierra Club, Progressive Democrats of America and the League of Conservation Voters.

Edwards has cast Wynn as a "complacent" incumbent who has betrayed his constituency.

"He voted in support of the war, but it's really more than that," Edwards said yesterday. "It's his voting the Republican line. I don't understand it for our district. It doesn't represent our district."

Edwards said at the Largo forum that Wynn's positions no longer match those of his constituency.

"As long as he chooses to vote lockstep with the Republicans, we will not have health care," Edwards said in response to whether she supports an affordable health care system. She said she supports a single-payer system.

Her supporters, a sizable crowd, broke into thunderous applause.

Gus Alzona, a Republican candidate for the 8th Congressional District, who shared the stage with the two, couldn't resist commenting: "That's a tough act to follow. I'm glad she's not my opponent."

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