In 2006, long-time progressive activist and public interest lawyer, Donna Edwards shocked seven-term Congressman Albert Wynn, losing to him by just three points in the Maryland Democratic primary. In Tuesday’s Potomac primary, a more seasoned and well-financed Edwards didn’t sneak up on anyone, and she sent the centrist Wynn packing with an inspiring and much needed victory. In the closing days, Edwards stood strong against personal attacks levied by a desperate Wynn campaign, and supporters such as the League of Conservation Voters, Emily’s List, MoveOn, Progressive Democrats of America, and the SEIU helped her to keep the voters focused on the issues.
As John Nichols recently noted in his excellent article, the Edwards-Wynn primary this year was "a bellwether contest in the fight for the soul of the Democratic Party." There’s a difference between a Democratic Congress and a progressive Democratic Congress. As Nichols points out, the "cautious and unfocused" 2007 Democratic Congress has lower approval ratings than George Bush–and that’s no easy feat. The strong anti-war and populist message that led to the Blue Wave of 2006 was quickly watered down as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi struggled to keep the caucus united. The only solution to that struggle? Replacing corporate-DLC-Blue Dog-centrist Democrats like Wynn–who voted with Bush on the Iraq war, Cheney’s energy bill, and with the pharmaceutical industrry–with a true progressive like Edwards.
"Donna Edwards is, for us, the prototype of what a new Democrat in the new Democratic majority in Congress ought to look and sound like," Patrick Gaspard, executive vice president of SEIU 1199, told the Washington Post.
Gaspard is absolutely right. Nichols wrote that Democratic Congresses historically pull Democratic presidents to the left, "but Presidents rarely go willingly." That’s why we need a new kind of New Democrat–who, like Edwards, is fearless and true to their progressive values.
Donna Edwards is a single mother who has spoken openly of the financial struggles she endured during years without child support. She’s a former executive director for the National Network to End Domestic Violence and also the progressive nonprofit Arca Foundation. She knows how to build a movement through insider-outsider strategies, rather than adopting poll-driven, consultant-given, Inside-the-Beltway positions.
Edwards’s victory gives the progressive movement another key partner and player inside Congress–and a woman, at that. She will help drive progressive issues into the national debate and campaigns, and forge a movement to make the changes we so desperately need in our nation. As Edwards told Nichols, "The work progressives do on the outside is essential, but more of us have to be on the inside if we’re going to make the Democratic Party the ally we need to change the Congress and the country."