Donna Edwards was the congresswoman for Maryland’s 4th District from 2008 to 2016. She left her seat to challenge Chris Van Hollen in the 2016 Democratic U.S. Senate primary. She lost. Two years later, she ran against Angela Alsobrooks for Prince George’s County executive. She lost, again. But now she’s back — having joined the race to reclaim her old congressional seat.
There are relatively few Jews living in MD-4, which includes large parts of Prince George’s and Ann Arundel counties. But the race to fill the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown, as he runs for state attorney general, is now attracting interest from the Jewish community precisely because Edwards is involved.
During her years on Capitol Hill, Edwards had a strained relationship with the pro-Israel community. She got off to a bad start in 2009 when, amid rising tensions between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, she refused to support a resolution that proposed to “recogniz[e] Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza.” Although the resolution passed the House 390-5, Edwards voted “present.” The same year she voted against a resolution that passed by a vote of 344-26 condemning the United Nation’s Goldstone Report, an investigation that accused the State of Israel of human rights violations but was later recanted as a fabrication.
Edwards is competing with three other primary contenders: Del. Jazz Lewis (D), a protege of House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who endorsed him; former Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey; and former two-term Del. Angela Angel. In the solid-blue MD-4, the winner of the Democratic primary has a virtual lock on prevailing in the general election. Before Edwards joined the race in January, Ivey appeared to be in the lead. But now, polling suggests that Edwards holds a significant lead in the race, with two of her three contenders trailing badly.
Adding to the drama in the race is the likely clash between AIPAC and J Street over Edwards’ candidacy. This has the Jewish communities of Baltimore and Montgomery County, just outside the district, watching closely. Edwards has always been close to J Street, which practices tough love on the Jewish state. Although the group has not endorsed Edwards at this time, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami called Edwards’ positions on Israel-related issues “rock solid.”
AIPAC, which is inaugurating its own PAC, has not yet made a decision in the race. But Edwards’ very public repeated refusals to work with AIPAC on pro-Israel letters and legislation during her years in Congress make it highly unlikely that the organization and its supporters will stay out of the fray.
The continued presence of both Ivey and Lewis in the race could add complication. Both are viewed as significantly more politically centrist and pro-Israel inclined than the more progressive Edwards and could split more centrist and pro-Israel support. Were one of them to drop out of the race, the potential path to victory for the other would become a lot less challenging.
This will be an interesting race to watch.