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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.

Rep. Donna Edwards’ backing of a surging candidate over the establishment pick in a contentious Congressional primary earlier this month shocked Maryland insiders, but it was only the latest show of her increasingly independent streak in the close-knit Congressional delegation.

The Democrat said her colleagues should not have been surprised.

“When my colleagues went to endorse Rob Garagiola, nobody asked me for my opinion about that,” Edwards said in an interview last week. “And I didn’t ask anybody else. I did what I thought was the right thing to do, and I made a decision, just like they did.”

Edwards supported businessman John Delaney, who ousted Garagiola, the state Senate Majority Leader and a close ally of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, in the contentious April 3 primary to run against vulnerable GOP incumbent Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.

During redistricting, the seat in question was drawn with Garagiola in mind and with Hoyer’s blessing.

Critics of Edwards said her late endorsement of Delaney paints her as opportunistic and an outsider to the delegation. She endorsed after President Bill Clinton weighed in for Delaney and after the race turned in his favor.

But others note that Edwards scored a major win that could help her down the line as she considers a leadership post under the Dome or even a statewide race.

Either way, the move underscored maverick tendencies that are viewed by some as unhelpful to her future in the House.

“I think Donna has exhibited an edginess that is not helpful to her long-term effectiveness,” said a source with close ties to the delegation. “She’s taken on the whip publicly and criticized him in front of the Caucus. She backed down and apologized, but subsequent behavior would suggest those are her real sentiments. I think she’s created a sense of alienation in the Maryland delegation, top to bottom.”

Indeed, Edwards dressed down Hoyer last summer during the debt ceiling debate over her concerns about Medicare and Social Security.

While other Democratic colleagues shared her goal of protecting those entitlement programs, witnesses to the exchange said none espoused such heated rhetoric in delivering their message as Edwards.

Multiple sources would not go on the record to discuss Edwards, but several cited her approach as overly aggressive. One said the Maryland delegation’s decision not to consult her on the Garagiola endorsement illustrates its level of frustration with her.

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