Progressives See Wynn as Beatable in 4th District

(By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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4th Congressional District
By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2008

The power of incumbency in the U.S. House of Representatives can be summed up by this: Since 1998, only 3 percent of all incumbents who have run for reelection have been defeated at the ballot box.

So how to explain the fierce political battle in Tuesday's Democratic primary now facing U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), who has represented voters in Montgomery and Prince George's counties for the past 15 years?

In a race that has attracted extraordinary national attention, Fort Washington nonprofit executive Donna F. Edwards, who has never held elected office, is mounting a well-funded challenge to a congressman who has been a powerful fixture on the local political scene since he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1982.

In recent years, Wynn gained a reputation for straying from Democratic orthodoxy on key votes and angered some in his district who believed he aimed to be a kingmaker in local politics. In a 2006 matchup between the two, Edwards fought Wynn to within 2,731 votes of the Democratic nomination, beating him in Montgomery but falling short in Prince George's.

For national progressives hoping to set an example for party leaders they perceive as too timid in confronting Republicans and too slow to end the war in Iraq, that race proved that Wynn could be beaten.

"They see him as vulnerable, and they're coming to play in Maryland," said Paul Herrnson, a politics professor at the University of Maryland.

Now, with little fear that Democrats could lose the seat in a district dominated by the party, national groups such as the antiwar, the League of Conservation Voters and the Service Employees International Union have pumped more than $1.5 million in independent efforts to convince voters that Wynn is the wrong kind of Democrat. The Nation, a liberal magazine, declared the race "a bellwether contest in the fight for the soul of the Democratic Party."

Wynn has been telling voters he heard their disappointment in 2006 but rejects the notion that he's out of step with his party. He is a member of the House's Out of Iraq Caucus and has proposed impeachment for Vice President Cheney.

He said constituents would be unwise to throw away seniority that has brought the 4th District federal dollars and a seat at the table of national decision-making in the Democratic-majority House for what he believes is a brand of ideologically driven politics.

"I've gotten things done. I'm in a position to get things done. And that's what this race is all about," he said in a Friday radio interview.

Wynn retains a considerable power base to help work polls and make calls on his behalf. He has been endorsed by AFL-CIO-affiliated unions, as well as teachers, police and firefighters associations. Yesterday afternoon, he rallied supporters with Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and former Montgomery executive Douglas M. Duncan.

"I believe in solving problems; that's what people want," Wynn told an enthusiastic crowd of union workers and other volunteers in Lanham.

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