By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Prince George's County lawyer Donna F. Edwards ousted eight-term Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D) yesterday, as voters backed her liberal insurgency against one of the state's longest-serving congressmen.
A second longtime congressman, Eastern Shore Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest, was trailing more conservative state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, who declared victory shortly after midnight.
Both Wynn and Gilchrest had been targeted by aggressive advertisement campaigns, funded in part with unprecedented spending by national groups, to convince voters they had fallen out of step with their districts during long years in Congress.
"The deed is done," Wynn told reporters. "I think the only thing that remains is to support the winner."
Just before midnight, Edwards emerged in front of a cheering crowd of supporters at a Largo hotel to claim the Democratic nomination.
"Today the voters went to the polls looking for a change, and they went out there looking for new leadership," Edwards told the crowd.
Edwards swamped Wynn in Montgomery County but was also running ahead in Prince George's, thought to be Wynn's stronghold.
With voting hours extended until 9:30 p.m. because of icy weather, election results arrived late in the closely contested race. After polls were scheduled to close at 8 p.m., voters cast provisional paper ballots, which will not be counted until Tuesday.
Elsewhere in Maryland, Gilchrest, a nine-term incumbent, was losing to Harris, a Baltimore County conservative who had argued Gilchrest had grown too moderate for his district, which includes part of Anne Arundel County and the Eastern Shore.
At an election night party, Gilchrest did not immediately concede defeat, instead thanking his supporters and predicting a long night, spokeswoman Cathy Bassett said.
Gilchrest voted against his party more times last year than any other House Republican. Harris and state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (Queen Anne's) had attacked Gilchrest, but also each other, as each attempted to assume the mantle of the race's most conservative candidate.
Other Maryland incumbents coasted to victory in their party primaries yesterday. They were Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R), House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D), Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D), Rep. John Sarbanes (D) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D).
Wynn angered progressives nationally by crossing party lines on several key votes and by accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate donations, including thousands in the days before the primary.
When Edwards, the director of a well-known foundation that hands out grants to progressive causes, came within 3.3 percentage points of beating Wynn in 2006, national activists saw the race as an opportunity to send a message that they would hold wayward Democrats accountable for more moderate votes.
Edwards and Wynn attempted to link their candidacies to that of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in recent days, hoping to capitalize on the heavy turnout expected for Obama in their 4th Congressional District, which includes parts of Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Edwards told voters that she best represented the kind of change Obama has been preaching, and Wynn argued he had proved himself a pragmatic bipartisan worker, like Obama.
Both candidates had made their ability to tackle the foreclosure crisis a centerpiece of their campaigns in the district, which has among the highest foreclosure rates in Maryland. They tangled over whether Wynn's 2005 decision to join Republicans in support of a bankruptcy reform bill had a role in worsening the crisis.
Wynn had urged voters to reject the national effort to oust him, arguing they would be foolish to give up his 15 years of seniority so soon after Democrats have assumed control of Congress.
In the closing days of the race, he went on the offensive against Edwards, alerting voters in automated calls to tax liens filed against Edwards's home for failure to pay taxes. She said that she had been honest about her financial struggles as a single mother and that she repaid all her debts.
Wynn also suggested to voters that Edwards was the puppet of outside forces attempting to dictate their representation, a particularly common complaint in Prince George's County, home to two-thirds of the district's voters.
Supported by environmental groups and two large unions, Edwards pledged to accept no contributions from corporate political action committees and said her experience raising her son as a single mother made her better able to understand the struggles of county voters than Wynn.
Voting yesterday at Evangel Cathedral in Upper Marlboro, father and son Melvin and Chris Spencer said they had voted for Edwards, feeling it was time for a change in their representation.
"We felt he was a little out of touch with us voters," Chris Spencer said. "His time is done."
Ivone McReynolds of Cameron Grove said she decided to back Wynn based on negative campaigning by Edwards and her supporters.
"She came off as so spiteful and so degrading," McReynolds said. "She didn't promote herself. She demoted Wynn."
Four other Democrats were also competing: economist Michael Babula, utility consultant Jason Jennings, retired activist George E. McDermott and real estate agent George E. Mitchell.
Four Republicans were also competing to take on Wynn or his successful challenger. They were Michael Moshe Starkman, who ran against Wynn in 2006, as well as Robert Broadus, Peter James and Vincent Martorano.
In Maryland's 1st District, Gilchrest received support from President Bush and former House speaker Newt Gingrich. In the Republican primary, he faced Harris, Pipkin and two other contenders.
Although his district typically votes Republican in November, it includes more registered Democrats than Republicans. State Democratic leaders vowed to make a serious play to pick up the seat this fall. They backed Queen Anne's State's Attorney Frank M. Kratovil Jr., who defeated three others in the Democratic primary.
Elsewhere, Hoyer, Maryland's most powerful congressman, faced one Democratic challenger, while three Republicans competed to battle the winner in the fall.
In Montgomery, three-term incumbent Van Hollen faced two Democratic opponents, and five Republicans competed for the GOP nomination.
Sarbanes, the newest member of the Maryland House delegation, faced a challenge from Annapolis businessman John M. Rea. Republicans chose their candidate from among three contenders.
Cummings, who has served six terms and had spent recent days campaigning hard for Obama, faced his own challenge from Baltimore activist Charles Ulysses Smith. Two Republicans vied to take on the Democratic nominee in the 7th District, which covers Howard County and Baltimore.
Bartlett faced four challengers for the GOP nomination in his Frederick and Montgomery county district. Army veteran Andrew Duck, the unsuccessful Democratic challenger in 2006, was competing with four others for the chance to challenge the GOP nominee in the fall.