For the House in Maryland

Saturday, February 9, 2008

TUESDAY'S DEMOCRATIC primary in Maryland's 4th Congressional District is a rematch of the 2006 contest between Rep. Albert R. Wynn and challenger Donna F. Edwards. In that face-off, just 17 months ago, Ms. Edwards, a civic activist running her first race for elective office, stunned Mr. Wynn and the state's Democratic Party establishment by coming within 3 percentage points of victory. It was Mr. Wynn's first close call since winning the seat in 1992, but Ms. Edwards's strong showing should not have come as a shock: She is a bright, tough-minded and well-funded candidate whose criticisms of the incumbent are mostly on target.

The 4th District, which comprises a chunk of Prince George's County and a smaller slice of Montgomery County, is among the most liberal districts in one of the most liberal states in the nation. No surprise, then, that Ms. Edwards has tried to outflank Mr. Wynn from the left -- and in the process forced him to repudiate a number of positions that she has painted as Republican-leaning. We disagree with both candidates on a number of issues, not least the American engagement in Iraq: They want to withdraw U.S. troops according to an irresponsibly quick and rigid timetable.

For her part, though, Ms. Edwards, a lawyer and foundation executive, has been an effective, energetic advocate for a range of liberal causes -- the environment, higher minimum wages, stemming domestic violence, campaign finance reform. As a community organizer, she has been an unstinting voice for improving mass-transit options, although sometimes at the expense of building roads that the 4th District badly needs. Even in cases where she clashed with local developers, however, she won their respect as a sensible and no-nonsense adversary. Poised, persistent and principled, she would make a fine representative for the 4th District.

Mr. Wynn has long touted what he regards as a pragmatic ability to work across partisan lines. We're all for bipartisanship, but in Mr. Wynn's case, too often his stances have been unthinking and out of step with his district's interests. His vote to scrap the estate tax suggested he was indifferent to his own middle-class constituents. By flip-flopping on fuel-efficiency standards and opposing campaign finance reforms, he showed his contempt for clean air and clean government. And he seems scarcely aware of the import of his votes to permit federal courts to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case and to support a constitutional amendment banning flag-burning: granting federal courts a license to meddle in private affairs and cramping free speech.

Mr. Wynn has been conscientious in his backing for small business and jobs programs, and he cites his years of legislative experience as an argument for reelection. But we think the district can do better and would with Ms. Edwards.

In Maryland's 8th Congressional District, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, whose political and legislative savvy have elevated him to the senior ranks of the House Democratic leadership after just five years in Congress, is clearly superior to a handful of other candidates running in both party primaries; he should be a shoo-in for reelection. In the 5th District, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, who is approaching 30 years in Congress and is now, as the House majority leader, a major political asset for Maryland, faces only token opposition.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company