On Campaign Trail, Armed With Self-Assurance

Donna Edwards (D) will face Peter James (R) Tuesday in a special election for a congressional seat.
Donna Edwards (D) will face Peter James (R) Tuesday in a special election for a congressional seat. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008

For one ingredient behind Donna F. Edwards's improbable victory over eight-term U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn in February's Democratic primary, look to the football field.

The nonprofit group executive from Prince George's County played the game with the boys when she was a tomboyish youngster. She laughed when asked recently whether she was any good at it, as she prepared to lob a pass during a muggy picnic in Glenarden, where she was campaigning ahead of Tuesday's special election to replace Wynn.

"I'm always good," she said, with only a hint of self-deprecating sarcasm.

It is this gritty competitive spirit that Edwards brought to her dogged campaign against Wynn, a self-confidence that led her as a young lawyer to found a national movement to end domestic violence and as a neighborhood activist to take on one of the region's most prominent developers.

For her supporters, many of whom are wildly optimistic that the 49-year-old represents a new face of progressive politics, her self-assurance is often borne out.

That was true on the football front in Glenarden. After shaking hands and addressing the crowd briefly, Edwards approached a group of young boys lined up on a playing field. "I want to see who can catch this pass, okay?" she called out before sending the football spiraling and soaring over the heads of the younger children to the older boys in the back.

"She got arm!" whistled a man watching the pass.

Her 22-point victory against Wynn in the Feb. 12 primary was so resounding that it has been hard for many residents in the 4th Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, to remember that the win formally earned her only the Democratic nomination.

She is routinely introduced at public events as the district's congresswoman. Within days of the election, her campaign office started receiving calls from constituents seeking the help of their congressional representative. In most cases, callers were referred to Wynn's office because Edwards lacked the staff or the interagency influence to solve the problems.

Wynn resigned May 31, setting up the special election between Edwards and Peter James (R). The winner of Tuesday's election will probably be sworn in within days and will serve out the remainder of Wynn's term. Edwards and James will face each other again in November, with the victor taking office in January.

In the months since her primary win, Edwards has been finishing up work at the Arca Foundation, a nonprofit charity where she has served as executive director since 2000. In that role, she has helped distribute grants to progressive causes and amassed a network of liberal activists who helped propel her run against Wynn.

She also has been touring her district, trying to ensure that voters get to know her better.

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