Maryland’s 4th Congressional District primary features influential Prince George’s Democrats

Published on: July 11, 2022 2:05 PM EDT

Donna Edwards and Glenn Ivey, Democratic candidates in the 4th Congressional District

This isn’t their first rodeo.

Both Donna Edwards and Glenn Ivey, each Prince George’s County heavyweights, have led their share of Maryland political campaigns, even squaring off against each other once before.

Edwards, who represented the 4th District from 2008-2017 as Maryland’s first Black congresswoman, also ran for a U.S. Senate seat in a nationally watched race in 2016, and bid unsuccessfully for Prince George’s County executive two years later.

Ivey, who served as Prince George’s top prosecutor for nearly a decade, contemplated running against Edwards for her House seat back in 2009, and got into the race against her a few years later, dropping out several months before the 2012 primary. In 2016, he contested the seat, only to come in second to Rep. Anthony Brown, whose decision to forgo national politics and run for attorney general launched another matchup with Edwards.

Now, Edwards is looking to reclaim her old seat — a result that could make her the lone woman in Maryland’s currently all-male Congressional delegation — while Ivey is pitching himself as a new-look representative who already commands an insider’s knowledge of Capitol Hill.

In a crowded, nine-person field, the two Prince George’s veterans have held the spotlight, racking up big-name endorsements and luring large fundraising hauls.

Chasing the two apparent frontrunners is former Maryland House of Delegates member Angela Angel, who represented Prince George’s County in Annapolis from 2015-2019. Six other little-resourced candidates will also appear on the ballot.

As election day nears, Edwards’ and Ivey’s well-funded campaigns have clashed over track records, endorsements and which of the two has the truly “grassroots” candidacy.

Edwards boasts the support of numerous labor unions and a few of the Democratic Party’s super-famous, including Jane Fonda and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Hillary Clinton hosted a fundraiser for her late last month.

Ivey, meanwhile, has secured the nod from the Washington Post’s editorial board, a roster of local officials and former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III, who suspended his campaign for Maryland governor in June.

Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said the 4th Congressional race is similar to many of the Democratic primaries playing out in Maryland this year, in that “it won’t matter which of the Democrats win — you basically get the same policies from all of them.”

Instead of parsing policy distinctions, Eberly said, the contest has required making a different case to voters: “I’m the person who can deliver.”

A contest of resumes

The radically redrawn 4th District, covering a broad swath of Prince George’s County and part of Montgomery County, packs in a deeply blue constituency with some of the largest concentrations of Black and Latino voters in Maryland. President Joe Biden would have won the district by more than 80 percentage points in 2020, according to a Politico analysis. The winner of the Democratic primary will be a near lock for Congress.

But the road may be rougher for the nominee in Washington, where Democrats are widely forecast to lose control of the House this November, an expectation based economic factors and the historic midterm performance of the party that controls the White House.

It’s a prospect that Edwards argues she’s uniquely qualified to meet.

Though she said in a recent interview that she’s not “doom and gloom” about national Democrats’ prospects in November, she also stressed that her previous tenure in Congress has prepared her to be effective in a potentially adverse climate. Should voters send Edwards back to Congress, she would reclaim all of the seniority she accrued in her previous nine years.

“I served in the majority and in the minority,” the former representative told The Banner. “I alone in this race understand the distinction.”

Asked how she could push forward Democratic priorities in a Republican-controlled Congress, Edwards named climate resiliency, federal food assistance, consolidation of the FBI headquarters in her district, and broadband expansion as “little areas of common ground” that could open doors for broader bipartisan achievements. She also laid out ambitious goals for expanding public transit in Prince George’s County, where commuters can spend hours a day in Beltway traffic, and emphasized a combination of root-cause programs and reform efforts in police departments to tackle high crime.

But while Ivey would enter Congress as a freshman, he has spent his share of time on Capitol Hill and said he’s ready to hit the ground running when he gets there. In addition to years of service in county and state-level politics, he has worked in a variety of Congressional staff and legal roles, including as chief counsel to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Wrangling inflation would be a top priority, Ivey said, a task that must be done without falling into a recession that would “throw the middle and working class under the bus.”

The prosecutor also touted reductions in violent crime during his time as State’s attorney in the 2000s as a potential model for struggles of many cities today. He stressed an approach of working with the police, while also expanding intervention programs and community outreach.

”We’ve done it before. We can do it again,” he said.

Angel, though out-gunned by her opponents in fundraising, said she understands what constituents in the district are really looking for in a representative. Close to a generation younger than Edwards and Ivey, Angel touted work both in Annapolis and at the federal level with prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the House Progressive Caucus.

A mother of five who a decade ago spent a period of time homeless and pregnant while escaping from an abusive relationship, Angel emphasized the importance of electing a woman into the Maryland delegation and highlighted legislation she has worked on to support marginalized communities.

The attention that Edwards and Ivey have gotten doesn’t match the reality that Angel has found knocking on doors and talking with people in the grocery store, she said.

“I’m in the county, I’m talking to people every single day, and that’s not reflective” of where people stand, she said.

Tensions flare

While Ivey and Edwards have faced each other before, the 2022 primary represents the first full-blown contest between them.

Fort Washington resident Gwen McKinney said she is “full-throated in support” of Edwards’ return to Congress, expressing excitement at having an experienced representative and a woman in the Maryland delegation.

“The competitors pale beside her,” said McKinney, the founder of a social justice-focused public relations firm who has known Edwards since the 1990s. “She is peerless in this race.”

Vanessa Velas Romero, a college student and Hyattsville resident, said she plans to cast her ballot for Ivey, in part because she appreciates his emphasis on local crime and feels he is best equipped to address it.

And though Edwards may have the firsthand experience as a national lawmaker, Velas Romero said she welcomes the chance to see a “fresh face” on Capitol Hill.

“He’s doing amazing work in the community,” she added. “He’s not just creating an agenda based on what’s trending.”

While Edwards has pitched her experience in Congress as a distinguishing advantage, her track record has become a point of tension in the run-up to election day.

A recent $600,000 ad funded by a super PAC affiliated with the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee blasted the former congresswoman for offering poor responsiveness and support to constituents while in office. At a press conference last month, Edwards accused Ivey of resorting to desperate measures and attacked the former State’s attorney’s affiliation with AIPAC, which has endorsed him. The affiliated group has funneled more than $3 million into anti-Edwards ads, while AIPAC has also helped Ivey raise money: this week he topped the “featured candidates” list on the group’s website.

“The really fundamental question is, who’s telling the truth here?” asked Ivey in an interview. The attorney pointed to a documented history of shortcomings in Edward’s constituent services and said she “can’t have it both ways” when it comes to independent campaign contributions.

Campaign finance reports filed late last week showed Ivey leading the field in fundraising, with more than one million dollars in contributions. Edwards trailed not far behind, coming in just under $1 million. Angel was the only remaining candidate to record any significant contributions, totaling nearly $100,000 in filing at the end of March.

Dust-ups over track records and super PACs have doubled as a venue for arguments over which of the well-funded campaigns best represents everyday voters.

“Mine are actually in the district,” Ivey said of his endorsements, arguing that they showcase his campaign’s grassroots appeal. While Edwards touts support from big names like Clinton and Pelosi, the former State’s attorney highlighted local backing from Baker, a former Prince George’s County Executive, the labor union representing workers at the NASA Goddard research laboratory, and 19 current and former mayors between the district’s two counties.

In a statement, Edwards pointed to backing from numerous labor unions, health care workers and the state’s largest teachers union, among others.

“As the actual grassroots candidate in this race, I’m proud of the campaign that I’m running,” she said. “My endorsements from federal, state and municipal workers aren’t just for show. They are from people who know me, my work ethic and the value I bring to the office. They represent the leader I am and the clout I have on Capitol Hill that I will use every single day to deliver for our district.”

The outlook

A clear picture of how the 4th Congressional primary is shaping up is hard to make out, Eberly said. The district has changed radically from the last election cycle, turning an even deeper shade of blue, and the only publicly released polling that the St. Mary’s professor was aware of comes from Edwards’ camp.

Eberly said that a previous stretch in Congress gives Edwards an advantage almost like incumbency, and the circumstances of a delayed, vacation-season primary may also play well for the candidate with the widest name recognition.

Still, those same factors have injected “a tremendous amount of confusion” into the race.

“If I was either of these two candidates, I wouldn’t feel confident enough to say, ‘Yeah this is ours. We’ve got it,’” he said.

This story has been updated to correct that it was in 2016 when Glenn Ivey finished second to Anthony Brown in the 4th Congressional District Democratic primary.

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