Challengers focus on Wynn’s Iraq war vote

Popular congressional incumbent now wants troops to come home; says he’s in line with district voters’ views

Thursday, Aug. 10, 2006

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Bryan Haynes⁄The Gazette
U.S. Rep. Al Wynn, right, D-Dist.4, talks with Peter Franchot, Democratic candidate for state comptroller Saturday at Wynn’s annual crab feast at Prince George’s Community College.

The District 4 congressional race is a battle to unseat seven-term incumbent Albert Wynn, who dominates local politics and has strayed from his Democratic colleagues on issues that define his party – at least, according to candidate Donna Edwards it is.

Edwards, a Fort Washington attorney and activist, is facing long odds. But she says she has made inroads drumming up support from residents angered by Wynn’s initial support of the Iraq war and other positions that could be labeled ‘conservative.’

‘‘Albert Wynn has for our district, a miserable voting record,” said Edwards, who clerked for Wynn at his law office nearly 20 years ago. She now calls him a fake Democrat.

Edwards said the defeat in Connecticut’s Democratic primary Tuesday of Sen. Joe Lieberman by antiwar candidate Ned Lamont signals a shift that could be repeated in Maryland.

‘‘Democrats want a change, and they want somebody who represents them, who isn’t going to walk in lock step with the Bush administration,” Edwards said. ‘‘Al Wynn is Maryland’s Joe Lieberman.”

But there’s a significant difference. Edwards has not enjoyed the financial resources or the media attention that Lamont has.

Wynn, who is supported by most county politicians, claims he votes with his party 88 percent of the time and is still an able representative of his overwhelmingly Democratic constituency, which covers Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Other politicians say his deep involvement at the local level makes him practically unbeatable.

‘‘Albert’s got that seat as long as he wants it. No one’s ever gonna defeat Al Wynn,” said Del. Justin Ross (D-Dist. 22) of Greenbelt, after polishing off a plate of shellfish at Wynn’s annual Crabfeast in Largo last weekend. Ross looked over the crowd and added, ‘‘I betcha’ there’s 1,000 people here today.”

Ross, like other local leaders, said he disagrees with Wynn on some issues, ‘‘but overall he’s good for Prince George’s County.”

Wynn has taken heat for his vote to invade Iraq. But for the past two years, he has attempted to recant.

‘‘I think basically the president misled the country and the Congress about weapons of mass destruction,” Wynn said in an interview with The Gazette. Wynn says he cast his vote in part out of concern for his district’s proximity to Washington, a potential terrorist target.

‘‘I’m not too proud to admit I made a mistake ... knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have voted for the use of force.”

Wynn is now backing the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

But he also broke with his party to support an energy bill giving oil and gas companies tax breaks and incentives, and an amendment banning flag burning. Unlike most Democrats, he supported the move to give the federal courts jurisdiction in the case of Terry Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose husband wanted to remove her feeding tube.

Wynn also has supported another GOP favorite, repealing the estate tax, which taxes the property of the wealthy after they die.

‘‘I’m a good Democrat, but I’m not a blind Democrat,” Wynn said. He says he stands with his party on the most important issues.

Wynn recently voted to overturn the president’s veto of legislation that would channel more money toward stem cell research.

Cheverly resident Madeiline Golde, who is supporting Edwards, said Wynn’s voting record is not convincing.

‘‘I’m looking for some real leadership in the district, and I just don’t think Al Wynn is providing that,” she said, speaking at an Edwards event in a Cheverly living room Friday.

Edwards faces an uphill battle in fundraising. As of June 30, Wynn had a war chest of more than $500,000 compared to the less than $200,000 raised by Edwards.

It also is her first time running for any office.

‘‘I’m a fan of people paying their dues,” said Del. Doyle Niemann (D-Dist. 47) of Mount Rainier. ‘‘Albert has, in fact, paid his dues.”

Wynn served in the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate before entering the U.S. House of Representatives.

Edwards is the director of the The Arca Foundation, which provides grants to non-profits for research on campaign finance reform, international diplomacy, media reform and other policy issues. She said she chose to run for Congress because she was familiar with national issues through her career.

She is also critical of Wynn’s meddling in local politics.

‘‘Wynn’s interference in local affairs has been very harmful and disrespectful of our leadership,” she said.

Wynn has been deeply involved with supporting Prince George’s politicians in county and state races.

‘‘It would be very easy and very comfortable to stay down in Washington,” said Wynn, who is often called the kingmaker. ‘‘I get involved because ... we need good leadership.”

The support works both ways – many local officials back him, as do most of the major unions, including the AFL-CIO and the state teachers’ union.

Wynn also holds annual job, college and small business fairs that attract thousands of residents. He helped secure millions of dollars in federal funding for transportation projects such as the Intercounty Connector, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the Blue Line Metro extension to the Largo Town Center.

Both candidates now talk about the need to withdraw troops from Iraq and fund alternative sources of energy.

Forest Heights resident and legal rights activist George Edward McDermott, another anti-war candidate, is also challenging Wynn.

‘‘You look at his voting record,” McDermott said. ‘‘Actually he shouldn’t even be running as a Democrat this time.”

McDermott, a commercial construction contractor, reports raising $40 in the campaign so far.

Whoever wins the Sept. 12 primary will face Republican candidate Michael Moshe Starkman.

Meanwhile, U.S Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Dist. 5), who represents most of the other half of Prince George’s, is running unopposed in the primaries. Only Green Party candidate Steve Warner is running against him in the general election, after one of the incumbent’s Republican challengers dropped out of the race last month.

Staff Writer Sean Sedamcontributed to this article.

E-mail Judson Berger