Candidates tout Obama, spar over partisanship at 4th District forum

Speaking at one of the first debates in the race for Maryland's open 4th Congressional District, former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown on Tuesday pointed to his loss in the 2014 gubernatorial election and described his House campaign as an effort to pick up the pieces from that defeat.

"Sometimes you're going to get knocked down," Brown told several dozen people gathered at Bowie State University for the forum. "But if you believe in what you pick yourself up, you dust yourself off and you stay in it. That's why I'm running."


The remarks offer insight into how Brown is planning to address the unexpected loss to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in the last election cycle as he runs for office again.

The statewide campaign helped to elevate his profile in the Prince George's County-based 4th District but, on the other hand, it has hampered his efforts to raise the kind of money generally expected from a former statewide officeholder.


Six Democrats and two Republicans running for the seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Donna F. Edwards discussed education, the economy and health care at the forum, which was organized by the Prince George's County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was the first opportunity voters have had to hear the candidates side-by-side in months.

Edwards -- whose name was noticeably absent from the discussion -- is running for the Senate seat that will be left open in 2017 by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's retirement.

The leading Democratic candidates -- including Brown, former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk -- drew few distinctions on policy, and they sought to associate themselves with President Barack Obama, who remains popular in the district.

But Brown and Ivey offered sharply different answers to a question about how to appeal to independent voters (who won't be able to cast a ballot in Maryland's closed primary on April 26). Brown discussed his effort to build consensus around domestic violence legislation when he served as Gov. Martin O'Malley's lieutenant.

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Ivey, by contrast, launched into a message his campaign delivered recently in a radio advertisement, noting Republican efforts in Congress to block Obama's expected nominee to the Supreme Court. With the largely Democratic audience jeering the GOP, Ivey said he would fight against those conservatives.

"Watch the Republican debates; take a look at the stuff that they're saying," Ivey said. "We're going to ban Muslims from coming into the country? I can't work with that...If there'll be a time when we can compromise on reasonable values, great. But they've made it clear that they're not interested in compromise, and I'll fight against that."

Peña-Melnyk pitched herself as an independent voice and said she had repeatedly taken on Democratic leaders in Annapolis -- "someone who's going to be willing to rock the boat," she said in describing herself, "but knows when not to flip it."

Though she only briefly touched on issues such as pay equity and family leave, Peña-Melnyk did draw attention to a potentially important demographic factor on display Tuesday: She was the only woman on the stage. "I bring a perspective that no one up here brings," she said.

Earlier in the debate, Brown raised the troubled roll out of the Affordable Care Act in Maryland in 2013, which he oversaw. Acknowledging "some rocky moments," Brown said that the law -- and its implementation in the state -- ultimately expanded health insurance to thousands of families, and said he wanted to "build on those achievements."

Ivey also repeatedly discussed the idea of expanding the health care law.


Democrats Warren Christopher, Matthew Fogg and Terence Strait also took part in the debate.

The 4th District, which also includes portions of Anne Arundel County, is considered safe for Democrats in the general election. Two Republicans nevertheless turned out to make their case and look for votes: Robert "Bro" Broadus and George E. McDermott.