Sixteen months ago, Prince George's County activist Donna Edwards rode the national wave of anti-war sentiment to come within a few thousand votes of unseating incumbent Rep. Albert R. Wynn in the Democratic primary election.
As the two candidates campaign for their rematch next month - when the Democratic primary vote in the liberal district will likely determine the next officeholder - both appear to have strengthened their positions.
This time around, Edwards says, voters know who she is before she introduces herself. Looking to maintain momentum from her narrow defeat, the 49-year-old attorney has raised more money, hired a campaign manager - a luxury she went without last time - and picked up some key labor endorsements.
This time around, Wynn says, he sees Edwards coming. Also an attorney, the congressman, 56, has called his 2002 vote to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq a mistake, voted to withhold further war funding and joined a House effort to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney.
"He is strengthened, no question, he has strengthened his posture on the war," says Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, College Park. "With some of the unions coming in and giving her added muscle, if you had to guess, you would guess that this would be just as close."
Other Democrats running against Wynn in the Feb. 12 primary are Michael Babula, a visiting professor of economics at Loyola College, environmental engineer Jason Jennings, businessman George McDermott and real estate broker George Mitchell. On the Republican side, businessman Michael Moshe Starkman, who lost to Wynn by a 5-1 margin in the 2006 general election, is joined by computer engineer Robert Broadus, businessman Peter James and Vincent Martorano.
The anti-war challenge by Edwards in 2006 drew national attention to the district that includes portions of Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Months of hammering Wynn for his support of the Iraq invasion and Republican bills on energy and bankruptcy brought Edwards just 2,731 votes shy of winning the Democratic nomination.
Now, she will learn if her critique resonates against an incumbent who has responded to the close call by reaching out to disaffected constituents. Since the primary, Wynn has repositioned himself as one of the most vocal congressional critics of the war; he was an early co-sponsor of the bill by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich to impeach Cheney, contending that he made misleading statements before the invasion.
"I've addressed some of the mistakes that I've made," Wynn says.
Edwards says it isn't enough.
"Frankly, if I had not run and challenged the congressman on his performance and on his voting record for this congressional district, he wouldn't have moved where he is now," she says. "Do you want somebody who waits until they're pushed up against a wall to do the right thing, or do you want somebody who understands what it takes to lead?"
Edwards says she would not vote for continued war funding. She speaks of providing universal health insurance, allowing homeowners in bankruptcy to renegotiate their mortgages and promoting America's energy independence.
"It takes somebody like me, who is used to standing up on behalf of the public interest and fighting for ordinary people," she says.
She points to her work to push the federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994 as the founding executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence and for campaign finance reform as an attorney with Public Citizen and later as executive director of the Center for a New Democracy.
She is executive director of the Washington-based Arca Foundation, which issues grants to promote labor and human rights, an end to the death penalty, environmental protection and other causes.
Eddie Martin is unimpressed. Martin, the vice mayor of District Heights, says Wynn has helped secure federal support for a senior center in his city and a pilot program for emergency patient care.
"Do you know what happens when you go into Congress as a freshman?" he says. "You can't get nothing done. All the people that come in, they're making promises, they're saying what they can do. The don't even know how Congress works."
Wynn is running on his experience as a legislator. An eight-term incumbent who served in the House of Delegates and the state Senate before entering Congress in 1993, he chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials.
"One of the problems you have with all these candidates, they're all great leaders, they're all going to solve these problems," he says. "But two things they've never done. One, they've never had to work within the constraints of a budget. And two, they've never had to compromise with people to get things done."
Wynn has supported legislation to provide universal health insurance coverage and to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq; he says he is developing a bill that would keep subprime foreclosures from showing up on the borrower's credit report.
"You'll hear a lot of talk about leadership, but the bottom line in leadership is getting things done," he says. "I have a record of accomplishment."
Not everyone is convinced. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 in Landover endorsed Wynn in 2006. Now the union is backing Edwards.
"The political landscape has changed," says Mark Federici, a union spokesman, who mentioned Wynn's "head-scratching" votes on the war, the bankruptcy bill and energy policy. "We think that [Edwards'] leadership is going to be a step up on behalf of our members."
The Service Employees International Union and Emily's List also have endorsed Edwards. The Fund for Children and Public Education of the National Education Association and the Washington D.C. Building and Construction Trades Council are backing Wynn.
Jerry Lozupone, secretary-treasurer of the Camp Springs-based labor coalition, says Wynn had worked with local employers to ensure good jobs for Maryland workers.
"He's got a pretty good track record with us on those issues that affect working people," Lozupone says. "Without his help, I don't know that we would have gotten to the table with these people."