House Races In Md., Va. Echo Quest For Change

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 27, 2006

Donna Edwards and Judy Feder live on opposite sides of the Potomac, two first-time Democratic congressional candidates in districts that couldn't be much more different.

But in their campaigns against two of the region's longest-serving incumbents, Edwards and Feder are the local representations of major national themes emerging in the 2006 midterm congressional elections.

When Edwards looks at fellow Democrat Albert R. Wynn in Maryland's 4th Congressional District, she says she sees Joseph I. Lieberman. Like the Connecticut senator, Edwards said, Wynn voted for the war in Iraq, one of several signs that he has lost touch with the liberal attitudes of voters in one of the country's most reliably Democratic districts.

And when Feder looks across Virginia's 10th, she sees a rapidly growing district -- stretching from inside the Capital Beltway through Loudoun County and beyond -- that voted for President Bush in 2004 but where most voters now disapprove of the job he is doing.

If this is the year of the anti-incumbent, she says, no one better represents the status quo than Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a low-key Republican first elected 26 years ago who is a loyal Bush supporter.

Can the challengers win? Feder and Edwards, reared in the worlds of public policy and political activism, are aware that the odds say no. Only a handful of congressional incumbents lost in 2004.

And in the lists of competitive races compiled by political experts -- in the Cook Political Report, Congressional Quarterly and the "Ferocious Forty" by University of Virginia professor Larry J. Sabato -- neither Edwards-Wynn nor Feder-Wolf ranks. But with three congressional incumbents rejected in other state primaries this month, it's hard for challengers not to think that lightning could strike in these races.

Edwards's aggressive and well-organized campaign has drawn interest from liberals across the country -- Barbra Streisand is a contributor -- and wins accolades from the same blogosphere activists who supported the once unknown Ned Lamont in his Democratic primary victory over Lieberman.

"This is not a daunting challenge for me, and the more I talk to voters in the district and the more I listen to voters, the more convinced I am that this will be the story of the election cycle," said Edwards, who faces Wynn in the Sept. 12 primary.

For Feder, it's her fundraising ability that gives her hope. For two straight reporting periods, she raised more money than Wolf. And Democrats in Virginia and other parts of the country are interested in testing whether stretches of Northern Virginia that have been Republican are ripe for realignment.

"When we looked at our baseline poll" of the district, Feder said, "the state of discontent was really quite powerful."

In Md., 'I Will Not Be Bought'

Donna Edwards had packed the auditorium with supporters at a recent NAACP candidate forum, and then she brought the house down.


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