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Donna Edwards Takes Her Own Path

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Donna Edwards broke with the Maryland Democratic delegation to endorse John Delaney in the April 3 primary. Some Members of the House see a bright future for Edwards, who serves on the Ethics Committee and is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

It was not the only issue with Edwards this cycle; she fought ferociously against the new Congressional map released in October. At the time, Edwards made no secret of her disgust with the lines. In an interview in October, she called the map “deeply flawed.”

Edwards said there is little residual ill will from the debate over the map or the primary in western Maryland, saying, “I think it’s water under the bridge.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings backed that up. “I don’t think there were fences that needed to be mended,” the Maryland Democrat said.

Even Edwards’ critics say her compelling background and media savvy make her a rising star. She is a regular on cable news shows and a frequent messenger in partisan policy debates, most recently during the Supreme Court hearings on the health care law, the budget and women’s issues. She co-chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program.

Edwards is on the Ethics Committee, an unappealing assignment ambitious lawmakers frequently take to curry favor with leadership, and is an active member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Still, one senior staffer to a CBC member said Edwards “is extraordinarily ambitious and super smart, but a little bit ... what’s the best word to put it? I guess the way to put it is that she kind of plays by her own rules and there’s not necessarily playing to the graces of the overall structure.

“When you’re winning, that ego isn’t as damaging. But when you’re not, it becomes a challenge,” the staffer cautioned.

In the Delaney fight, Edwards’ candidate won, but she did not walk away unscathed. The typically liberal lawmaker managed to rattle the AFL-CIO, which had backed Garagiola. The group’s Maryland president, Fred D. Mason Jr., wrote a highly critical memo of her decision.

“She had been asked to endorse Rob Garagiola, and barring that to endorse no one,” Mason wrote, according to the Baltimore Sun. He added that her endorsement of Delaney would “certainly be considered in our future relationships.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the CBC, acknowledged Edwards is “not a shrinking violet” and pointed out that others “sometimes have difficulty with assertive women.” But the Missouri Democrat nevertheless had high praise for his “extremely bright” colleague.

“I think she is probably someone who in time is going to be a candidate for some leadership position,” he said. “She’s not saying that, I’m saying that.”

Edwards certainly knows how to win uphill campaigns. She endured her own contentious primary battle in 2008, when she challenged Rep. Albert Wynn. While most CBC members and the Maryland establishment backed Wynn, they quickly came to support Edwards after she cleared the primary and when she joined Congress. She predicted the same would be true if Delaney wins in November.

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