Veteran 4th District congressman Albert R. Wynn faced the fiercest primary challenge of his political career in September, so he's taking no chances in next month's general election.
Wynn eked out a narrow victory over Democratic primary opponent Donna Edwards, a civic activist and former foundation executive. Now his challenger is Republican Michael Moshe Starkman, 28, a senior manager for a software development company who has never run for political office before.
"I've got to improve both in terms of policy positions and also in terms of the operation of my office," said Wynn, 55, who lives in Mitchellville. The 4th District includes portions of Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Starkman says the fact that so many voters are displeased with Wynn creates an opportunity for him.
"The people are unhappy with Albert Wynn," said Starkman, who lives in Rockville.
"Albert Wynn has been there for 14 years," Starkman continued. "He has developed a certain attitude or approach that the people don't feel are considerate anymore. His lack of creating a campaign Web site, for example, is just another example of what people are telling me, that he doesn't reach out and show interest for people."
Starkman describes himself as a community activist who teaches Jewish youth and helped establish a synagogue six years ago. He is also the campaign manager for Jeff Stein, the Republican running in Maryland's 8th Congressional District.
The candidates differ on most issues.
Starkman criticizes what he called Wynn' s "very liberal approach" to immigration. "Even though he does bring money in terms of projects and the like," Starkman said, "his stance on immigration is hurtful to the people of District 4."
Starkman supports a plan to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border for increased security and fine corporations that hire undocumented immigrants. "They should be prosecuted as criminals," he said of such companies. He is against President Bush's amnesty proposal but says he would have to do more research to determine how to deal with illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
Wynn says he supports reform that would address the need for increased border security as well as allow immigrants to obtain legal status by paying a fine and registering with the government. "I believe this would discourage people from working at below minimum wage," he said. "This would not be an amnesty program; this would be a program for legalization."
Wynn says he has changed his position on some issues, citing his previous votes in support of the war in Iraq and a repeal of the estate tax as examples. Edwards attacked Wynn's position on both issues in the primary. In terms of Iraq, Wynn now says he supports a phased withdrawal that would conclude by the end of 2007.
The congressman says he supports fully funding the federal No Child Left Behind law and giving local school systems more flexibility with some of its requirements. He says he also wants to fix the Medicare prescription drug plan by allowing the government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies.
Starkman says he is against a public timetable for troop withdrawal in Iraq and believes the country should remain there until Iraqi security is firmly in place. He says his priorities would include eliminating wasteful programs, which he says he would research after being elected. "Look, I'm Jewish," he said. "I don't believe in pork."
Though he isn't campaigning aggressively, Starkman says he hopes his message as a political newcomer will be heard. "I don't have the money," he said. "Do I have a shot? Am I going to be able to wage a $100,000 or $200,000 campaign like Donna Edwards or Albert Wynn? No. The only thing I offer is a fresh message, a message from someone really who has not been politically corrupted."
Wynn says he's optimistic about the campaign but is doing a top-to-bottom evaluation of his office. "There's no position I have, no legislation I have, that's inflexible at this point," he said. "I want more of my constituents to be satisfied, so I'm going to work harder and make changes."