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Edwards: Dems need to reach out to black voters

Rep. Donna Edwards, a candidate for the U.S. Senate
Rep. Donna Edwards, a candidate for the U.S. Senate (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Maryland Senate candidate Donna F. Edwards said Thursday that the Democratic presidential field should be doing more to court African American voters and connect them to national progressive policies.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun about the state of the campaign to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Edwards said that the presidential candidates should be more aggressively tying national Democratic priorities, such as Wall Street reform, back to communities of color.

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"Some are more challenged than others, whether it's their history as an elected official that seems counter to where the Black Lives Matter movement is going or whether it's because they have a legislative lens that's just been about ... traditional progressive rhetoric," said Edwards, who is running against Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the state's marquee political contest.

Edwards was discussing the field at large, not individual candidates. She said that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton has "strong ties" with black communities across the country.

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The comments came as the Prince George's County Democrat prepares to embark on a statewide tour for the rest of the August congressional recess, with visits to the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland next week. She plans to kick off the effort by formally opening a campaign office in Lanham this weekend.

Edwards described the effort as a learning tour.

"I want to introduce myself to folks in the region but I also want to learn about what people's priorities are," she said.

Van Hollen has also been active in those Republican-leaning, more rural areas of the state. The Montgomery County Democrat won nearly 80 percent of the vote in a straw poll conducted by the Western Maryland Democratic Political Action Committee in June, and his campaign had a more visible presence last month at the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake on the Eastern Shore.

If elected, Edwards would be the first African American to represent Maryland in the Senate and the second black woman to serve in the chamber nationwide.

Race was a central component of an address she delivered to the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix last month. Noting the lack of black representation in the chamber, Edwards said that "people shouldn't be afraid that one, one little black woman -- just one out of a hundred -- is going to be in the United States Senate."

A day later, Democratic presidential candidates Martin O'Malley -- the former Maryland governor -- and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont were interrupted by Black Lives Matter protestors. They were both criticized for how they handled the exchange.

"I see the deep connection between my values as a progressive and my values as a black woman and I don't see a dime's bit of difference between those," Edwards said Thursday in response to a question about the incident. "I think that our presidential candidates should take a page out of that book."

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