Back of Democratic Pack Fights to Be Heard

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 8, 2008; Page B02

Just before a recent debate between competitors for the Democratic nomination in Maryland's 4th Congressional District, candidate George E. Mitchell, a real state agent, had a complaint to register about news media coverage of the race.

"We get mentioned at the end," he said of the party's four lesser-known candidates in the race, which features a rematch between Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) and the Prince George's County lawyer who almost defeated him in 2006. "It's like we're Larry, Moe and Curly."

Mitchell, 53, who bills himself as the "People's Congressman," is running a populist campaign. He says voters have lost faith in Wynn, a 15-year incumbent, and have never trusted his leading opponent, Fort Washington lawyer Donna F. Edwards, 49.

He is not the only candidate struggling to be heard over several million dollars' worth of radio, television and mailed ads in support of Wynn and Edwards.

Montgomery County economist Michael Babula said he is taking a grass-roots approach, using students to canvass voters.

"The only reason I got into this race is to help people," he told a crowd at a recent debate. "I'm asking all of you to give serious consideration to an alternative."

George E. McDermott, 62, who runs a Web site devoted to exposing fraud in the judicial system, arrives at events in a truck festooned with such slogans as "Fighting Corruption in Our Gangster Controlled Courts." He also ran in 2006, receiving 3.9 percent of the vote -- more than the margin that separated Wynn and Edwards then.

Utility consultant Jason Jennings also appears regularly onstage with Wynn and Edwards.

The four men might not be able to mount the same kind of well-funded challenge that Edwards has. But their presence on the ballot could help swing the election, potentially splitting the support of voters unhappy with Wynn's leadership, University of Maryland political science professor Ronald Walters said.

"They're going to take votes from the challenger," Walters said. "Wynn has a base. If he's able to cultivate and turn out his base, he'll be in good shape and he might squeak it out."

The lesser-known candidates are trying their best to convince voters that they are more than spoilers. When News Channel 8 said this week that it would hold a debate between Wynn and Edwards, Mitchell wrote a letter to host Bruce DePuyt.

"I really don't see why you are so determined to make this a two-person race," he wrote.

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