The United States Senate is a heralded institution of great American history. Some of our nation’s finest leaders have served in the Senate. Debates that have shaped the course of our country have taken place on the Senate floor. But the Senate is also the one governmental institution with the worst record on diversity. In 227-years, the Senate has only had one African-American female among its ranks. But right now in Maryland, there is a woman working hard to change that.
Donna Edwards represents the 4th Congressional District which comprises portions of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. She’s held her congressional seat since a special election in 2008. Her constituents have overwhelmingly supported her at the ballot box where she’s never finished with less than 70-percent of the votes cast. Now she’s running to be only the 2nd African-American female in U.S. Senate history.
The first hurdle Edwards will have to overcome is a tough primary opponent in Congressman Chris Van Hollen. Representing Montgomery County since 2003, Van Hollen has secured a long list of endorsements and has been out-fundraising Edwards nearly 10 to 1. It is shaping up to be a battle of the establishment’s favorite son versus the insurgent candidate from the outside. Robert Draper of The New York Times recently covered this race and similar dynamics in Democratic primaries across the country.
Among the endorsements that Edwards has not received is from The Congressional Black Caucus PAC. It has chosen to stay neutral in the Maryland Senate race. This decision is baffling to many since the PAC has been eager to support the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. The civil rights group, Color For Change, sent the PAC a scathing email contending that the PAC is basically backing corporate power.
None of this seems to be slowing Edwards down. If anything, she is emboldened by the role of outsider. And in an election cycle where a candidate doesn’t want to be too close to the “establishment,” her popularity is spiking with voters. A recent poll had Edwards with a 4-percent lead over Van Hollen despite his financial advantages.
Edwards has been a long time advocate for women, serving as the first executive director to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. She worked tirelessly in support of the Violence Against Women Act which became federal law in 1994. She is an ardent champion for women’s reproductive rights and previously served as the chair of the Democratic Women’s Working Group.
Current polling shows the race is dividing voters by both race and gender. According to a poll conducted by The Washington Post, Edwards is leading with minority and women voters while Van Hollen has a dominate lead with white males. White women polled showed a preference for Van Hollen while black women leaned towards Edwards.
Overall, Edwards is maintaining a slight lead. But the millions of dollars spent in advertising on behalf of Van Hollen over the past three months appears to be having the desired effect. Late last summer, Edwards enjoyed a 10-point lead and looked like she might run away with the contest.
Edwards isn’t shying away from making diversity a key issue in the race either. She recently told a forum at Southern Friendship Missionary Baptist Church:
“When you have diverse voices . . . you make better decisions because we bring different perspectives.”
The battle for a new progressive isn’t just taking place on the presidential level. In many ways, the most important struggle is happening in local, statewide, and federal primaries across the country. Democratic voters are being challenged for the first time in a generation to define their core beliefs and select candidates that best capture their definition of “progressive.”
Donna Edwards represents the New Left, a grassroots and often uncoordinated movement of historically underrepresented voters across the U.S.. They are the minorities (racial, gender, sexuality), the youth, the poor, and the disenfranchised. For a party that has spent the past several decades as the champion for these groups, the importance of this current struggle cannot be overstated.
Featured image by Donna Edwards via Flickr, available under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license