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The Democratic primary for Maryland's 4th district is putting the Congressional Black Caucus in a difficult position and prompting liberal activists to prepare for battle.
Rep. Donna Edwards won her seat in 2008 with net-roots support, first routing then-Rep. Al Wynn in the Democratic primary. She hasn't had any serious challenges since, but she's now up against former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey, who already has proved he's able to win countywide.
Ivey could use his ties to CBC members to make the April 3 primary a battle for the ages in what Roll Call rates as a Safe Democratic seat.
Edwards finds herself in a redrawn district that swapped out Edwards-friendly Montgomery County constituents for new voters in the more conservative Anne Arundel County. She kept a sizable portion of her Prince George's County home base.
Political operatives, local politicians and consultants called Ivey "the real deal" and suggested he'll be formidable.
Ivey's entrance into the race creates a dilemma for the CBC, which declined to comment. The group traditionally backs incumbents, as it did in 2008 with Wynn.
But Ivey spokesman Ramon Karionoff said Ivey has "been in private contact" with CBC members about his bid, adding that Ivey has a long history with the group dating back to his time on the Hill.
It remains to be seen the level of involvement that Edwards' fellow Marylander and former CBC Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) will take in the primary. Another dynamic to watch will be whether Edwards and Ivey split the black vote, providing an opportunity for a potential Democratic candidate. Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit, who is white, told Roll Call he is confident that if he runs, he would dominate Anne Arundel County. He described Anne Arundel voters as feeling "a deep resentment" that they do not have a Member of Congress from within the county because of gerrymandering.
Besides his work as a prosecutor, Ivey served as a Capitol Hill staffer for Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and former Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.). He is an attorney at a D.C. law firm and maintains that he is "very well-known in Prince George's County."
Roll Call asked Ivey whether his former bosses would be involved in his campaign. "I'm not trying to create awkward situations for anybody. ... I think the key is the things I learned from them, I could put to work immediately upon getting there," he said.
He said his campaign is preparing to roll out local endorsements, but he declined to disclose the supporters' names.
An Ivy League education, the connections, the fundraising and the proven local electability all point to Ivey strengths.
Edwards and her spokesman declined to comment for this story, and she has been all but silent since Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) introduced the new map that he went on to sign into law over her objections.
Even as an incumbent, Edwards is something of an outsider within Maryland political circles. She is a favorite among liberal groups such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. She also has a small national following among the activists known as the net roots, which first got to know her when she ousted Wynn, a more conservative Democrat who had backed the Iraq War.
Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas told Roll Call in an email the net roots would "absolutely do everything we can to help her retain her seat."
"More than any politician the Daily Kos community has helped elect to Congress, Rep. Donna Edwards has kept her integrity and remained one of the strongest and most passionate progressive voices in the House," Moulitsas said. "Hers would be too important a voice to lose."
With praise from labor activists and the women's group EMILY's List, Edwards seems as if she will have a coalition behind her.
"We take this possible challenge very seriously because we take all of our elected women and their re-election very seriously," EMILY's List spokeswoman Jen Bluestein said. "But we are confident that, given the profile Donna has in her community, given how well she has served her community, and given what an excellent campaigner she has been in the past that, she will be re-elected and go on to continue to serve."
Christopher Honey, the district's local Service Employees International Union spokesman, told Roll Call the group views her as a "strong supporter."
But Edwards has rubbed some state politicians the wrong way with her outspoken style. Her vocal opposition to the new Congressional lines only added to that sentiment.
Edwards was one of the highest-profile critics of the proposed map, calling it "deeply flawed" because suburban Montgomery County had a large minority population and would likely have three white Members representing it come 2013. She even drew up her own alternate version.
She currently represents the eastern side of the county and would be losing those constituents and picking up voters from Anne Arundel County.
"The word 'unhappy' does not adequately reflect what's happening here," Edwards said about the map at the time.
Benoit told Roll Call it seemed to him Edwards didn't want to represent his county. He said he was "frustrated" with her response, which was the "catalyst" in his decision to consider an Edwards challenge of his own.
"I felt like she was trying to pick her constituents," Benoit said. "In my opinion, it works the other way around."