The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Donna Edwards gets help from Pelosi to swat at attack ad tied to AIPAC

Former Maryland Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D). (Cheryl Diaz Meyer/For The Washington Post)
7 min

A new super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is spending money to attack former Democratic congresswoman Donna F. Edwards as she asks voters to send her back to Congress in Maryland’s 4th District.

Edwards pushed back forcefully Friday — including with a virtual appearance from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — against a $600,000 ad buy from the United Democracy Project. The super PAC has been inserting itself into races across the country, spending millions against candidates opposed by AIPAC, long one of the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying arms in Washington. The group’s attacks, however, have often been about issues unrelated to Israel policy.

The group’s ad — which does not broadcast an affiliation with AIPAC — attacked Edwards over criticism about her constituent services during her time in office from 2008 to 2017; she did not seek reelection so she could run for the Democratic nomination for Senate, a race in which her record on constituent services was an issue as well. (The United Democracy Project ad heavily cites editorials from The Washington Post’s editorial board, which is separate from the newsroom — though the ad also included one 2016 Post news article.)

At a news conference Friday, Edwards said the ad “lied about my record” and that her Democratic opponent, former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey, “knows he’s losing and now he’s desperate.” Ivey has been endorsed by AIPAC.

“My opponent’s got his dark-money super PAC. I’ve got grass-roots support. And you know what? I like those odds,” Edwards said. “I have to tell you a thing about Black women that many of you know already: When you come for us, we don’t run. We double down and we get the job done.”

At the end of the news conference, Edwards’s campaign manager put a laptop on the lectern and pulled up a video message from Pelosi. “When Donna Edwards first represented Maryland’s Fourth Congressional District, and that was for nearly a decade, she was one of the most effective members in Congress,” Pelosi said on the video. “Donna fought hard for Prince George’s County — for jobs and investments in her community, to help constituents in need and to deliver results.”

United Democracy Project’s foray into the 4th District race indicates that a proxy-war between pro-Israel groups — AIPAC endorsing Ivey and the liberal J Street endorsing Edwards — could be making a dent in the race in its final stretch before the July 19 primary. A spokesman for UDP, Patrick Dorton, said this is the sixth race UDP has gotten involved in this year, including helping Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) and Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) by spending against their opponents. Dorton said UDP plans to be active in the Maryland race until the primary election day.

The Post previously reported in April that AIPAC had funneled nearly $160,000 in donations from its supporters to Ivey’s campaign before it formally endorsed him. Now, on AIPAC’s list of “featured candidates,” Ivey is at the top and is one of two “key races” prioritized by the organization.

“We strongly support Glenn Ivey because he deeply appreciates the importance of the US-Israel relationship,” an AIPAC spokesman, Marshall Wittman, said in a statement. “His stance stands in stark contrast to one of his major opponents, whose record while in Congress was hostile to America’s alliance with Israel.”

AIPAC’s fallout with Edwards dates to her first term in 2009, when Edwards voted “present” — neither for nor against — on a resolution “recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza.” Dorton also cited Edwards’s “present” votes on a 2011 resolution expressing support for direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and 2012 legislation to enhance security cooperation between the United States and Israel, among several others.

But Edwards has retained strong support from J Street, which on Friday condemned the UDP ad and called on Ivey to do the same. It commended Edwards for her support for “peace, diplomacy and human rights for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

“It’s appalling. These baseless attacks against an experienced Democrat like Donna Edwards are being funded by a hawkish, Republican-aligned group which is actively fundraising for those who threaten our democracy,” Kevin Rachlin, vice president of public affairs for J Street, said in a statement, referring to the fact that AIPAC is also backing Republicans who objected to 2020 election results. “As Speaker Pelosi made clear, these attacks against Donna are baseless. Glenn Ivey must show his commitment to American democracy by calling for United Democracy Project to pull its misleading ads from this race.”

A spokesman for Ivey, Ramón Korionoff, said Ivey would “continue to focus on reaching voters every day about the issues that matter most to them, combating crime, lowering inflation and educating our children.”

“As the ad points out, [Edwards] was the least-effective Democrat in Congress during her tenure and she failed to deliver for her constituents when they needed her most,” Korionoff said. “Glenn has a record of getting things done and always showing up and doing the work.”

When confronted with the criticism about her past constituent services work elsewhere on the campaign trail, Edwards has taken a softer tone. One voter at a campaign forum at Riderwood Senior Living in Beltsville, Md., last month said she had heard about problems with Edwards’s constituent services while she was in office. The voter asked from the crowd, “How would that be different this time you’re in office?”

Edwards did not take issue with the criticism then.

“I think that is a fair question and criticism,” Edwards responded. “Having stepped away for the last six years, I’ve had an opportunity to really think about that. I think there was some great things we did in our office, from college fairs we held and houses we saved from foreclosure, to opening up opportunities for small-business people. … But I hear the criticism. And all I can say is the commitment that any legislator makes, which is that I’ll do better. I’ve heard it and I’ll do better.”

Edwards was joined by several allies at her news conference Friday who testified about their positive experiences with Edwards and her work helping constituents, including one who said Edwards helped save her house from foreclosure.

Del. Karen Toles (D) also stressed the importance of electing a liberal woman to Maryland’s federal delegation, which has not had a female member since Edwards and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) left office in 2017.

“The stuff that you hear is B.S., OK? It’s just B.S.,” Toles said, referring to the attack on Edwards. “Let me say when we elect the congresswoman back, she will be the only woman in the entire delegation from the state … Only women have these issues when it comes to trying to get elected to office. You don’t hear them talking about men saying they have constituent issues. They only talk about women. Women that are mothers. Women that are educators. Women that are working multiple jobs yet have the courage to run for office. We will not be deterred. We will send her back.”

The 4th Congressional District primary represents somewhat of a rematch between Ivey and Edwards. Ivey launched a short-lived primary against Edwards in 2012 but dropped out. He sought to fill the seat Edwards vacated in a 2016 Democratic primary but lost to Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.), who is not seeking reelection to run for Maryland attorney general.

Former Prince George’s delegate Angela Angel is also seeking the Democratic nomination.