Rep. Chris Van Hollen's campaign for Senate began airing its first attack ad against rival Rep. Donna F. Edwards on Friday, criticizing his opponent by suggesting she has been an ineffective member of Congress.
Echoing a theme Van Hollen has been sounding at debates and forums in recent months, the ad points to two analyses to suggest Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat, is among the most partisan members of the caucus and that she has been unable to advance legislation.
The ad comes just days after Edwards began airing her own attack ad, a spot that said Van Hollen has been open to cutting Social Security benefits and has taken money from Wall Street interests. Together, the ads represent a turn toward a sharper tone in the competitive race.
"Edwards was ranked one of the least effective members of Congress -- dead last among all Democrats," the ad's two narrators say. "And the least willing to find common ground. That's why The Post said Edwards was allergic to compromise just like Tea Party Republicans."
The common ground allegation is based on a bipartisan index created by the Washington-based Lugar Center, which ranks lawmakers based on bill sponsorship and co-sponsorship. That index, which is widely cited, is among several that rank Edwards among the most liberal members of Congress.
The claim about her effectiveness is based on an analyses by a website called InsideGov.com, which is part of a California-based company called Graphiq. The analysis ranks lawmakers on how many bills they have authored that have been approved by a committee, a somewhat crude metric given the complexity of how laws are made on Capitol Hill, and the fact that Republicans decide which bills receive votes.
InsideGov only provides scores for the lowest-ranked members -- which does not include Van Hollen -- so it is not possible to compare her 'score to his using its methodology.
Not surprisingly, the Edwards campaign disagreed with the premise of the ad -- and it repeated its own accusations against Van Hollen.
"We're disappointed that Congressman Van Hollen is using negative, personal attacks to continue to mislead voters about his record," Edwards spokesman Benjamin Gerdes said in a statement.
The Van Hollen ad went up on the same day that his campaign organized a phone call with several supporters, including former gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur and Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to criticize Edwards' constituent services. Baker said that Edwards was a no-show at an initial meeting over the county's effort to lure the FBI's headquarters -- a major project the county and state hope to land -- and said his relationship with the local congresswoman is "non-existant."
On the one hand, Van Hollen's criticism plays directly into his strengths as a candidate. One way to interpret his argument is that he has been better able to navigate Capitol Hill and build relationships that have allowed him to advance an agenda. The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Van Hollen was considered a possible candidate for House Speaker before he decided to run for Senate.
Those skills could prove especially useful in the Senate, where relationships can matter even more than in the House because individual lawmakers in the upper chamber wield more power.
On the other hand, Edwards herself is already running as an unabashed liberal, an outsider -- despite eight years in the House -- and someone who wants to bring a new voice to the Senate. A similar message, touted by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- who has also spent a fair amount of time in office -- has been powerful at the national level, allowing him to challenge front runner Hillary Clinton in a way few would have predicted a year ago.