One of Maryland’s most competitive congressional primaries — taking place in the newly reconfigured 4th District — has attracted so much outside money that national groups have essentially hijacked the contest.
The Democratic primary has attracted nine candidates, with the winner expected to sail to victory in November.
Despite the large field, the focus has been almost entirely on two heavyweights — former Congresswoman Donna Edwards and former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey. Both are proven vote-getters who have been out of office for several years and are attempting a comeback.
Edwards was elected five times and held the seat from 2008 until 2017. She ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2016, losing to a House colleague from a neighboring district, Chris Van Hollen (D). She ran unsuccessfully for Prince George’s county executive in 2018 and is an analyst on MSNBC.
Ivey served from 2002 until 2010 and has been in private practice ever since. He ran for congress in 2016, finishing second behind now U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D).
The other Democrats on the ballot are Tammy Allison, Angela Angel, James Levi Curtis Jr., Matthew Fogg, Gregory Holmes, Robert McGhee and Kim Shelton.
The 4th District seat came open when Brown decided to run for state attorney general, following Democrat Brian Frosh’s decision not to seek a third term.
The policy differences between Ivey and Edwards are few and the similarities are many. Both have relatively high name-ID. Both have attracted impressive endorsements. Both enter the home stretch with six-figures in their campaign coffers (Edwards reported $243,247 cash on hand as of June 29, and Ivey had $321,127). And both can point to polls showing that they are the frontrunner.
But that’s where the race takes a turn.
Ivey is the beneficiary of a massive infusion of outside spending, most of it — more than $4 million as of Thursday — from a single organization, the United Democracy Project (UDP). The group, which is affiliated with the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee, vigorously opposes Edwards because of votes she cast during her tenure in the House.
While some of the group’s ads speak favorably of Ivey, most of UDP’s spending has been used to attack Edwards, according to the campaign-tracking organization Open Secrets.
Although she voted with AIPAC on many issues, she voted “present” — rather than in favor of — a 2009 resolution that backed Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Gaza. Four years later, she was one of a small number of Democrats to vote against a measure strengthening sanctions against Iran, a bill Israel’s defenders supported.
Edwards called the UDP advertising blitz against her “disgusting,” “reprehensible” and “garbage.”
“Every organization that ever spent on my behalf identifies themselves,” she said. “They don’t call themselves the United Democracy Project, trying to hide the fact that its AIPAC behind that money.”
Edwards has been endorsed by Hillary Clinton, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), the League of Conservation Voters, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), several large unions and the National Organization for Women.
“That’s the kind of support that I want, because it means that when I go into Congress, nobody’s going to own me. I think that voters have a right to ask who owns Glenn Ivey if $3.3 million is going to fund his campaign,” she said, referring to an earlier spending total by UDP.
Ivey has resisted calls to denounce the lavish spending on his behalf. He said the ads that accuse Edwards of shoddy constituent services during her prior tenure ring true. He points to an essay, critical of Edwards, that then-Del. Heather Mizeur (D) wrote during the 2016 Senate primary.
“No matter how often you called or emailed or pleaded in person to get attention to your problem, it would often be ignored,” wrote Mizeur, a Van Hollen supporter. “[F]or a legislator to have a consistent record of not responding to the needs of constituents is akin to malpractice in our field.”
At a recent forum, Edwards acknowledged the criticism, calling it “fair,” and she pledged to do better. Ivey is skeptical.
“Keep in mind she had this job for ten years,” he said. “If she can’t get it right in ten years, why should we think you can get it right now?”
Ivey has been endorsed by former County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, former Gov. Parris Glendening, former Montgomery County Executive and state party chair Isiah Leggett, and former U.S. Rep. Albert Wynn (D), who resigned after Edwards defeated him in the 2008 primary.
Ivey points to his service as the top prosecutor in Prince George’s during a period in which the county’s homicide rate fell. He said he was willing to work with police to fight crime while “holding accountable” officers who engaged in misconduct.
He also said that his service as a Justice Department prosecutor and Capitol Hill staffer, particularly the four years he spent on the Senate Whitewater Committee, could prove valuable if Republicans retake the House of Representatives.
“I think there’s a good chance House Republicans are going to have multiple investigative hearings that target the Biden administration,” he said. “And I think it’ll be good for the Democratic caucus who’ve got experience with that, and I certainly do.”
The United Democracy Project is one of three Super PACs to spend lavishly on the Edwards-Ivey contest.
The J Street Action Fund, another pro-Israel group, has spent approximately $254,000 on ads supporting Edwards and critical of Ivey, according to Open Secrets. The League of Conservation Voters has pledged to spend $650,000 to boost Edwards, who has served on the organization’s board of directors.
The outside spending from the three groups dwarfs the nearly $2.1 million that the candidates themselves had raised through June 29.
The 4th District encompasses a large swath of Prince George’s and a small portion of eastern Montgomery. Due to redistricting, Anne Arundel is no longer part of the district.