While Lord knows I'm all for the notion of a progressive rebellion putting a little spine into the Democratic leadership so that they will stop rolling over for the Bush Administration (the MSM definition of "moderate"), that is not what lead to Donna Edwards knock out win against Wynn. Rather, what we have seen is how economic pain brings voters a wonderful sense of clarity to recognize when they have been sold out.
The amazing thing about Wynn is not that he lost, but that he stayed on so long. Wynn's record on what should be economic bread and butter issues for P.G. County is appalling. In a majority black county, Wynn voted for a bill in 2006 that would have given freedom to cable and telecom providers to engage in redlining. Indeed, he voted against his party to side with the Republicans to defeat the anti-redlining measure. His reasoning "telephone and cable companies recognize we are valuable customers. We don't need to worry about redlining. We need to worry about making it easier for these companies to offer services."
In 2005, Wynn voted for the Bankruptcy Reform Bill, which made it significantly harder for individuals to discharge credit card debt in bankruptcy proceedings. He also voted for the Bush Energy bill, giving huge tax breaks to energy companies at a time when his constituents were looking at a rise of over 70% in energy bills due to deregulation.
In 2002, after backing McCain-Feingold for years as part of party orthodoxy, he suddenly switched when it looked like it might pass to the Shays-Means alternative designed to gut critical aspects of McCain-Feingold.
Normally, politicians get away with this sort of thing by bringing home lots of pork to the district and keeping political bosses happy. Bobby Rush, the former Black Panther who routinely shills for the telcos, got AT&T to donate $1 million to the Bobby Rush Social Center back in his district. But Wynn never managed to bring home big bucks to PG County, either in the form of Congressional Pork or in the form of contributions to the region by his corporate supporters.
Given all this, what kept Wynn around for so long? The answer, sadly, is that Wynn had one major talent -- manipulating the Democratic Machine in PG County. Having clawed his way to his Congressional spot in 1994 with a new generation of African American machine politicians riding the demographic wave of PG County's transformation from a rural county to a major (and majority black) suburb of DC, he and the rest of the his crowd have done a splendid job of controlling the key levers of power through political patronage, a modest bit of thuggery, the occasional election irregularity, and the fact that most of his constituents didn't really pay that much attention. Wynn's hold on the machine can be witnessed by how many political honchos in the region scrambled to his defense. Not only did Steny Hoyer campaign for him, but he received endorsements from the Teacher's Union, the AFl-CIO, the Police Association, the Firemen's Association, and on and on and on.
Edwards, by contrast, got two major and quite different endorsements. One was the Service Employees Union (SEIU). That is certainly consistent with the "national progressive politics" storyline. SEIU has tried very hard to push for progressive politicians (as witness their backing of Edwards). But the other one, and to my mind of greater sigfnifcance, was the endorsement of ACORN. ACORN is a non-profit dedicated to housing for low income families. They endorsed Edwards as the best hope for families getting foreclosed in PG County.
It is the ACORN endorsement that really tells the story of this election in a nutshell, if you will. PG County has the highest rate of foreclosures in the state of Maryland. It is a real crisis. And people feeling that kind of economic pain (or afraid they will soon feel it) do not put up with the sort of excuses, nonsense, and small scale political intimidation that keeps machine politicians like Wynn in office. These are people who are angry and desperate and not at all amused by their elected official voting for a bankruptcy reform bill that bites them where it hurts. Nor are they impressed that now that the crisis is upon them, Wynn has bestirred himself to drop all manner of bills (which have no chance of passage) to prevent foreclosure.
In 2006, Edwards carried the slice of Montgomery County that was redistricted to the 4th in 2000, as well as those portions of the county with residents with average higher incomes and higher education. Wynn carried the traditional core of PG county and came away with a win by 3%. That campaign was based on the Iraq War and on Wynn being too close to the Bush Administration. This year, Edwards made serious inroads into what had been Wynn territory buy running a campaign based on the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005, and why the Hell you going to vote for a man who cost you your home, fool?
Other Democrats, including progressives, should take heed. The economic situation will get worse, not better, before November. There are going to be a lot of angry and desperate people looking for someone who can promise them legislation to keep their homes and hang on to their jobs. There is a real opportunity here for a campaign that focuses on these very basic bread and butter issues. By contrast, I think campaigns that treat this as about abstract debates over "moderates" and "progressives" are going to get steamrolled.