By Barry Rascovar
What in the world was Emily’s List thinking when it threw $1 million into the Maryland Senate primary race for a candidate who could be an easy mark for Republicans next November?
Why would the women’s political empowerment group try to defeat a much stronger Democratic candidate who has an unblemished pro-choice record and strong support from elected female leaders in Maryland and women’s rights advocates?
It’s a baffling call, especially in an election season where a $1 million advertising blitz could have made a huge difference in a number of pivotal general election Senate races around the country involving other Democratic, pro-choice, female candidates.
Emily’s List early on endorsed Rep. Donna Edwards of Prince George’s County for the Senate seat held by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring after next year’s election.
Edwards is running against Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County, who has a big lead in the most recent poll, the vast majority of endorsements from elected Democratic officials and a solid corps of female supporters, including the former national board chair of NARAL, a leading abortion-rights advocacy group.
Million dollar blitz
Yet Emily’s List insisted not only on snubbing Van Hollen’s two decades of solid pro-choice support but then decided to become an issue in the Democratic primary race with its $1 million Edwards ad campaign.
It’s an independent expenditure committee ad campaign, which by law means Emily’s List cannot coordinate its activities with the Edwards camp. But the obvious similarities of Edwards’ campaign pitch and the Emily’s List ad is striking and raises concerns.
Even more troubling is Emily’s List’s attempt to target its ad to an African-American audience, with an obvious African-American narrator proclaiming Edwards will “work for us.” [Watch the ad here.]
If the same language had been used in support of a white candidate, there would be hell to pay – and rightly so.
What’s so odd about Emily’s List’s love affair with Edwards is that her victory in the April 26 Democratic primary would be a gift from heaven for Republicans.
While Edwards has a legitimate shot at winning on April 26, in the general election she might not be the favorite, even in heavily Democratic Maryland.
That’s not the case with Van Hollen, who enjoys far broader statewide support than Edwards.
Republicans are hoping for a repeat of Larry Hogan’s upset win in the governor’s race last year. He defeated Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who lacked broad statewide support among Democrats, independents and elected officials.
If either of the two GOP front-runners, Del. Kathy Szeliga or Harford County Executive Barry Glassman is nominated, they could duplicate Hogan’s success if Edwards is the Senate opponent.
Both are good campaigners who want to come across as smiling, Hogan-esque figures.
Edwards, on the other hand, is a lightning rod for controversy. Her hard-edge political approach is far to the left of the Democratic center, she does not work well with her fellow politicians and she often has forgotten to tend to the services demanded by constituents.
In contrast, Van Hollen has spent two decades networking within Maryland’s political establishment. He’s popular with his colleagues and has worked relentlessly to pass meaningful legislation rather than showboat on behalf of liberal causes.
The ultimate irony is that Van Hollen and Edwards are on the same page when it comes to defending abortion rights. There’s no difference in their level of support.
That’s why Emily’s List’s $1 million worth of aid for Edwards is so puzzling.
It may not have much of an impact, though.
Far more valuable may be Van Hollen’s endorsement by a key labor union, SEIU, which redrew its prior support for Edwards in previous elections.
One SEIU official said Edwards had turned her back on the labor movement after SEIU helped get her elected in 2008.
SEIU brings considerable on-the-ground organizational muscle to Van Hollen’s campaign.
The labor union works hard to get out the vote for its endorsed candidates. Moreover, the core of SEIU’s 40,000 members live in areas of the state Edwards needs to win big-time: Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Prince George’s County.
That’s one reason SEIU’s endorsement of Van Hollen is so meaningful.
It’s surprising that Emily’s List didn’t look at the bigger picture, both in Maryland and nationally, before tossing $1 million into its Edwards advertising effort.
The group’s decision could turn out to be a very costly Pyrrhic victory.