Crowded Fields Are Primed For the Primaries

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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008

When voters across Maryland go to the polls next week to help select their parties' nominees for president, they will also choose candidates to appear on the ballot in November in races for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Seven of Maryland's eight congressional representatives face challenges from members of their own party Tuesday. Analysts say that some of the races could be determined by the turnout, and that the spirited presidential election could drive voters to the polls. But if there is nasty, cold weather for the unusually early primary, some voters might stay home.

The most closely watched local race pits an eight-term incumbent, Rep. Albert R. Wynn, against four challengers for the Democratic nomination in Maryland's 4th Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Wynn's opponents include Fort Washington lawyer and activist Donna F. Edwards, who came within three percentage points of defeating Wynn in the 2006 primary.

Edwards has been embraced by national progressive causes, ensuring her ability to mount a well-funded challenge to the congressman she accuses of voting too often with big business and Republicans. Edwards, the executive director of a nonprofit foundation, has challenged several key votes by Wynn in Congress, including authorizing the use of military force in Iraq in 2002 and the repeal of the estate tax.

She has also emphasized the benefits of her own experience as a struggling single mother, including two years when she went without health insurance. And she has hammered Wynn for accepting thousands in campaign contributions from corporate political action committees.

Wynn has countered that he has been an effective lawmaker for his district, forging bipartisan solutions and bringing home federal funds for local projects. He has accused Edwards of launching a campaign based on "empty cliches" and said the bulk of his voting record has been solidly on behalf of traditional Democratic causes. He has also criticized her fundraising, claiming that the causes that support Edwards's effort are funded by wealthy people who do not live in the 4th Congressional District.

The four other Democrats in the race are economist Michael Babula, utility consultant Jason Jennings, retired activist George E. McDermott and real estate agent George E. Mitchell. The four contend that Edwards and Wynn are political insiders.

The district's Republicans also have a crowded field from which to select a nominee. Michael Moshe Starkman, who ran against Wynn in 2006 and got 18.6 percent of the vote, is again on the ballot. He faces Robert Broadus, Vincent Martorano and Peter James, who bills himself as a Ron Paul Republican.

The state's other hot race is in Maryland's 1st Congressional District, which includes part of Anne Arundel County. Nine-term Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R) faces challengers, including state Sens. E.J. Pipkin (Queen Anne's) and Andrew P. Harris (Baltimore County), who say he is too liberal for his district, particularly on the Iraq war.

The race has featured tough television and print ads along with millions of dollars raised and spent. Gilchrest has received help from President Bush and former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich.

Pipkin, a former Wall Street bond trader, spent hundreds of thousands of his own money on the race. Harris, an anesthesiologist and Naval Reservist, is supported by several elected Republicans and the conservative Club for Growth. Author Joe Arminio and former Baltimore County Orphan's Court judge Robert Joseph Banks are also in the race.

Despite its tendency to back the GOP in general elections, the district has more registered Democrats than Republicans. Four Democrats vie to compete in November, including Frank M. Kratovil Jr., Queen Anne's state's attorney, who has the support of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. Also running are Steve Harper, an executive for a large consumer-products company; Cambridge-based lawyer Christopher Robert Robinson; and lawyer Joseph Werner.

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