Rare Dual Losses in Md. Put Incumbents on Notice
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Two long-serving members of the House of Representatives from Maryland were ousted in primaries Tuesday, as voters seeking change united with ideological activists in both parties who wanted to punish congressmen thought to have strayed from party principles.
In Prince George's and Montgomery counties, lawyer Donna F. Edwards soundly defeated eight-term Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D) after accusing him of being too moderate for his liberal constituents on issues including the economy and the Iraq war. Edwards will face Republican Peter James in November in the heavily Democratic district.
In an Eastern Shore-based district, nine-term Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R) was ousted by State Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County), who waged a campaign from the right that targeted Gilchrest's positions on the Iraq war and immigration. Harris will run against Queen Anne's State's Attorney Frank M. Kratovil Jr. (D).
The defeat of an incumbent in a primary is a rarity, but two in one state is almost unheard of. In Maryland, no congressional incumbent had lost a party primary since 1992; it had been 28 years since two fell on one day.
"When voters were going into the booth, they were voting for change," said Michael Cain, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary's College of Maryland, citing enormous enthusiasm for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). "But it's interesting -- the politics of polarization that the Obama campaign is concerned about played out in Maryland last night."
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill took it as a sign that the election season could be bad for incumbents of all stripes.
For Republicans, the Gilchrest defeat raised a dilemma: They might feel the need to distance themselves from President Bush and the Iraq war, both of which are broadly unpopular, but if they go too far, they risk incurring the wrath of the GOP's base.
Gilchrest's compatriot in the party's small antiwar wing, Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), faces similar peril May 6, when the Tar Heel state holds its primaries.
Maryland Democrats said they think Gilchrest's defeat by the conservative Harris in the 1st District creates an opportunity to pick up a seat in Congress in November.
Wynn was routed in the Montgomery County section of the 4th Congressional District, where Edwards had won a previous matchup between the two in 2006. But it was Edwards's commanding victory in Wynn's home base of Prince George's County that forced the 15-year incumbent, a fixture of county politics, out of office.
Supporters of both candidates said yesterday that they were stunned by the margin in that race. Some attributed Edwards's winning margin of almost 14 percentage points in Prince George's in part to an extraordinary turnout for Obama among voters eager for a change in political leadership.
The millions spent by national liberal organizations to help Edwards in what they regard as a bellwether race were also a factor, observers said, as was dissatisfaction with Wynn's constituent services and anxiety over the declining economy.